But harvesting the snails was difficult. At low tide, oyster rocks are surrounded by mud, sometimes mud rising in the thighs. The shells are very sharp and contain pathogens. This made heavy gloves and sturdy stability necessary for walking around exposed rocks.
The gray oyster shells, which are bright and often curved, do not look like much, but they all retain the most valuable properties for many years. The researchers were particularly interested in how the size of the oyster changed when the fish fell. According to Durham, the size of an oyster shell can tell you how fast the animal grew, how long it lived, and how it responded to water changes during its lifetime, among other things.
Measuring the size of antiquity shells and compiling a timeline based on what happened also helped scientists deal with the genetic problem of what Dietl called “generational amnesia.” Because environmental degradation occurs over time, it can change environmental perceptions. For example, the size of snails flying over the surface of the ocean today may seem normal, but once the project is completed, researchers have found that the animals are half the size of powerful parents.
When tested, the shells are classified as Paleontological Research Institution. The 40,000 shells found in the Florida oyster have already reached Ithaca, packed into dresses or wrapped in plastic and stored in containers. Each shell contains the most important information that informs the future of the oyster in Florida. All of the records are added to a database that will help conservationists determine which rocks are the lowest – and which can be saved.
Dietl’s Historical Oyster Body Size Project is one of several ever-expanding conservation paleobiology projects, while the remains of ancient artifacts support modern conservation work. Karl Flessa, a geologist at the University of Arizona who has worked with Dietl in projects, likened the effort to “working the dead to work.”
In his own book, Flessa uses the elements of the clam archeology to illustrate the decline of the Colorado River Delta. When the river broke out in the 1930’s, the amount of water that flowed into the coastal wetlands declined. This left all islands of clam shells for Flessa to study. More recently, his work has helped to rehabilitate residential pockets along the dry riverbed.
Florida environmentalists are already benefiting from Dietl ‘work. As they rebuild the rocks by laying salt rocks or oyster shells to make them strong enough to fit the oyster, the Brucker team also collects live oyster specimens. Back in the lab, these oysters are tested, tested, and stored, just like their Ithaca brethren. The project, still in its infancy, is promising. “We’ve seen bigger oysters than the last time we were out there, more than a year ago,” says Brucker.
This is especially encouraging given the prevalence of oyster worldwide. Some say that 85 percent of the world’s oyster habitats have been lost over the past two centuries. Oriental oysters found along the Florida Panhandle are of this type of microcosm. Once he got out Texas to Maine, thriving on the shores of New England. “It’s time to dump her and move on,” says Durham.
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