By KATHLEEN ONOREVOLE
Kathleen Onorevole is a master’s student in Michael Piehler’s lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Institute of Marine Sciences in Morehead City. She studies the impact of ecological restoration on nutrient cycling.
There are two types of people who care that the word February includes the letter “r”: spelling bee contestants and oyster enthusiasts.
Whatever your opinions on spelling, it’s hard to argue that oysters are d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s.
They’re also timely: We’re in North Carolina’s wild oyster season, which traditionally had been identified as months with an “r” in the name. It’s easy to appreciate oysters at suppertime, but this shellfish is important to our coasts for reasons beyond the culinary.
As a graduate student working in eastern North Carolina, I’ve been lucky enough to experience this firsthand.
To understand some of the benefits of oysters, it’s useful to start with their food source: algae. Marine algae use nitrogen in the water to grow. When it rains, stormwater runoff delivers high concentrations of nitrogen to coastal waters from sources such as fertilizer. Just as the nitrogen in fertilizer helps grass and crops flourish, it can promote rapid algae growth, leading to a scenario called an algae bloom.