Mississippi’s coastal region provides habitat for migratory birds and waterfowl as well as for shrimp, crabs and fish that fuel the local economy and provide recreational opportunities.
Critical to the overall health of this rich ecosystem are oyster reefs, which provide important habitat for aquatic species and help improve water quality by removing excess nutrients that enter the Gulf through freshwater sources. Reefs also provide protection against coastal erosion and storm surges.
The American oyster lives in shallow water in estuaries and behind barrier islands. Although populations have declined considerably over several decades, they are found most abundantly along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Along the East Coast of the United States, American oysters are found from Canada south to the Florida Keys.
The first-ever global analysis of shellfish reefs, which was released by the Conservancy in 2009, estimates that up to 89 percent of the oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico have disappeared.
While the report listed the state of oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico as “fair,” the report rated most shellfish regions globally much worse – in many cases they have disappeared altogether.
Overfishing, dredging, habitat loss and the deterioration of water quality have decimated much of the Gulf’s oyster reefs.