Eastern Oyster - Learn about Oysters - Chesapeake Bay

Lean about the eastern oyster, one of the most famous and recognizable aquatic species in the Chesapeake Bay.

Neon oysters and seafood sign

Eastern Oyster

The eastern oyster is one of the most famous and recognizable aquatic species in the Chesapeake Bay. While not everyone enjoys eating this peculiar-looking bivalve, we can all appreciate the vital functions oysters serve in the Bay's ecosystem, as well as their cultural and economic importance to the region.

Oysters Provide Habitat and Food
Oysters provide underwater habitat in the form of aquatic reefs. With their many nooks and crannies, oyster reefs can create 50 times the hard surface area of an equally sized flat mud bottom. Hundreds of Bay creatures, including sponges, sea squirts, small crabs and many species of fish, need hard surfaces like those found on aquatic reefs to survive.

In addition to providing habitat, oysters are a source of food for a host of animals.

Oyster larvae are eaten by anemones, sea nettles and other filter feeders.

Flatworms and mud crabs feed on new spat.

Older spat and first-year oysters are preyed upon by blue crabs and some species of fish.

Oysters lying exposed on intertidal flats are food for some shorebirds, such as the American oystercatcher.

Oysters Filter Water
Oysters are filter feeders. This means that they feed by pumping large volumes of water through their gills and filtering out plankton and other particles. As they filter water to get food, oysters also remove nutrients, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants, helping to keep the water clear and clean for bay grasses and other underwater life. One oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water per day.

Oysters Are Historically and Economically Important
The eastern oyster is a Chesapeake Bay icon. Since the late 19th century, the oyster industry — including the catch, sale, shucking, packing and shipping of oysters — has contributed millions of dollars to the region's economy and built a rich history and cultural heritage in the Bay region.

Eastern Oyster article information came from the Chesapeake Bay Program at

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