This is an open letter to the staff and volunteers of the University of Georgia Marine Extension Service (MAREX) on Skidaway Island and particularly to those involved in the re-establishment of Georgia's oyster fishery.
If you don’t eat oysters please understand that this article is not specifically about eating oysters. Read on.
Dear Sir, Madam, Gentlemen, Ladies and Scholars all,
The work you are doing to re-establish the oyster fishery along the coast of Georgia is fantastic to say the least.
Are there those of this readership who did not even know such an effort was underway and has been for a very long time? You need to know. Only those aware of the effort, and certainly those directly involved, can appreciate the tremendous amount of dedication, hard work, and scientific research and, oh yes, tax dollars needed as a vital pre-requisite to the program. Those of us who benefit from the hard work of these dedicated scientists and volunteers only need to publicly recognize the effort and, in turn, support it.
Science and hard work are two factors that are an integral part of the ongoing process. They then act as sentries for some time to come to make sure that the established nurseries for future oyster beds survive. The greatest threat will be human intervention.
Those directly involved with the oyster fishery restoration project only ask of the rest of us that we allow them the opportunity to do the work and provide the support for a project that will bring immeasurable financial returns along with an elevated quality of life here on the Georgia coast.
Learned scientists and volunteer laymen work side by side to revive what was once a naturally occurring event along the Georgia coast. The evidence of the importance of oysters and certainly the historical abundance of oysters along our coast can be found in the middens, walls and stacks of oyster shells left by the Indians and early settlers. See: Saltydawgdventures.com.
I am old enough to remember the days when the oyster fishery in Georgia represented big bucks. Our own Supreme court Justice Clarence Thomas came from Pinpoint, a community dedicated to oystering. I can remember the days of a rented bateau from Barbee’s in Isle of Hope ($1 for the day). A potato rake and a number two galvanized wash tub was the way to dinner that night. We did the same thing everyone else did. We harvested the oysters the wrong way and contributed to their demise.
Oysters in Georgia are the best. I say that, not because I am a native Georgian but, because it simply is the truth. I have eaten oysters from Louisiana, Mexico, Maine, Massachusetts and Oregon. None of them can touch a Georgia oyster. The reason why involves the tides and the temperatures and the salinity of the water and a lot of other things you would have to consult with a marine scientist or a coastal naturalist about. Georgia oysters might be a little harder to get to and a bit smaller than the dinner plate sized ones you find on the West coast of Mexico but Georgia oysters are the best.
Besides the fact that oysters are the center of many social events on our wonderful coast, they are actually nutritious.
Now if you don't eat oysters let me again remind you that the intent of this article has nothing to do with promoting the consumption for oysters. The intent of this article is to try and shed a little light on the foolhardy direction we are going in certain aspects of the coming development of our beautiful coast.
Oysters can, in many cases, be considered as the "sentinel" species. They decline due to bad fishery management but they also decline due to pollution. In both cases it relates to human interference.
Oysters are filter feeders. They filter 2.5 gallons of water an hour. Basically speaking, they love dirty water, naturally dirty water, Mother Nature’s dirty water. Water dirty with nutrients and detritus and microscopic life form are the oysters “chicken soup”. They are very tough and very valuable little crustaceans in that respect.
In the scheme of things they make the water perfect for the evolution of other species of marine life. One thing they can’t handle is fresh clean water. Fresh water equals a dead oyster. It’s that simple.
So we come to the point of this article. We are referring to the event of a whole new potential threat to the ecology of our tidal waters and coastal salt marsh estuaries. I am referring to the proposed waste water treatment plant at the headwaters of the Medway River in Liberty County. The system is called a Membrane Bio-Reactor System (MBR).The proposed WWT plant is unquestionably a fine system of cutting edge technology designed to treat sewage to within one or two steps of water “safe to drink”! I have to think those are the facts that lulled the members of the Liberty County Development Authority to sleep. The proposed WWT plant is designed to annually dump approximately 1.3 billion gallons of fresh water (treated sewage) directly into the Salt Marsh. If the EPD approves this permit do you suppose they might approve a few more along the coast? How about two more (minimum) resulting in nearly four billion gallons of oyster killing treated sewage being dumped into our beautiful marshes? All this to satisfy the whims of a very few politically connected short sighted individuals?
The tax payers of Georgia are presently paying a hefty fee for a very necessary effort to restore the oyster fishery in Georgia. There are hundreds of people involved in a very real long term project, including our own Department of Natural Resources that will have a major positive effect on the quality of life and the sustainable financial stability of coastal Georgia. The long term financial reward for the state is immeasurable.
With the successful return of a healthy oyster fishery, aside from the obvious financial return, the continuance of an elevated quality of life for all of us will be revived.
Along with the oyster fishery, the preservation of our beautiful salt marshes is involved. Not only the oyster fishery but shrimp, crabs, and all manner of fish are involved. 85% of the marine life that exists in our oceans depends on nature’s management, not human’s management, of the salt marsh estuaries.
We must demand that true science be substantially involved in the political decisions concerning development along our coast, not political whim. We have an invaluable source of information and a gold mine of knowledge within our borders, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography. There are forty-nine other states that would kill for the resources we have in our own back yard.
Without your voice nothing will change. The successful effort to preserve a life style, a quality of life, a magnet to quality growth and most importantly, the protection of a major eco-system vital to millions more than just the residents of the Georgia coast is dependent on your voice, not your neighbor’s voice, yours. Do it now.
Google your Legislator’s contact information. Demand the injection of qualified science into coastal development. Demand that state law be adhered to and proper scientific research be done not simulated. This is not about snail darters. It is about the extremely valuable and sensitive salt marsh estuaries and tidal zones we are morally and ethically assigned to protect.
Hubbard is a retired Green Beret who runs a charter service from his home in Richmond Hill. He and his wife Peach are actively involved in a number of environmental issues.