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Personnel File - June 2008: Research

Martin Posey, Marine Biologist
UNC, Wilmington

They’re great raw, steamed, fried, baked in casseroles or simmered in stews, but North Carolina oysters have a huge value beyond commercial fishing. Each mollusk can filter pollutants from up to 50 gallons of water a day, and they grow in formations that provide shelter for young marine life and prevent coastal erosion. Martin Posey, chairman of the Department of Biology and Marine Biology at UNC Wilmington, is among a handful of scientists working to restore the Tar Heel oyster population, estimated to be 5% to 10% of what it was in the early 1900s. Posey, 48, grew up in a small town on Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and earned his bachelor’s at UNC Chapel Hill and doctorate at University of Oregon. In case you’re wondering, when he has oysters on the half-shell, he likes them with cocktail sauce.

“I’ve been to Japan and looked at the aspects of the Asian oysters they’re considering bringing into Virginia, and it’s actually a very different oyster in terms of how it grows. We’re not sure it provides the same habitat that the native oyster does, and one of the great values of the native oyster is its habitat. Non-native species can be a reservoir of disease, sometimes providing a springboard for what was previously an uncommon disease to spread to native species. Also there have been many cases where species behave extremely differently here than they did in their native habitats, and this could affect us here in North Carolina. And finally, the oyster they’re thinking of introducing in Virginia is not the preferred oyster in Asia. It’s just the one we have available. If we’re going to do this, why introduce an oyster people don’t think tastes as good?”

“You have the direct fishing industry, but virtually everyone agrees that the economic value is far, far more for habitat and water quality. Oysters increase water clarity, increasing the aesthetic value of the coastal areas. Anyone who knows coastal realty or coastal tourism knows that’s a huge economic benefit that’s hard to categorize.”

“I think we can still bring the native species back. N.C. is still in a position where larvae are present, where we can work with the system. I think it’s just going to take concerted efforts of restoration, putting out shell mounds in the right configurations in the right locations and reducing destruction to the areas where some of those oysters are.”