East Coast oyster-lovers, despair: A $58 million campaign to save the Chesapeake Bay oyster population has left the area with fewer oysters than before the campaign’s start. The Washington Post reports that the 14-year-old federal- and state-level effort has failed on a scale that “stands out.”

The ramifications of the failure, unfortunately, go well beyond the price and availability of oysters at the Old Ebbitt Grill. Chesapeake Bay oysters are the bedrock of a marine ecosystem that lies in ruins; in the same way that a coral reef provides shelter, food, and a general sense of community to a bunch of critters ranging from tiny hermit crabs up to giant sharks, oyster beds have long anchored coastal life along the Eastern Seaboard.

But now?

‘You’re talking about sort of a lunar landscape here,’ [University of Maryland professor Kennedy] Paynter said. He was looking at video of a neighboring area, buried in silt and only lightly seeded with oysters. After heavy harvests and diseases and dirt washing off farm fields and suburban lawns, this is what’s left of many reefs.

One of the oyster program’s big problems, writes the Post, is that most of the bivalves it grew were then harvested by commercial fishermen. For more of this kind of thing and a bleak look at future prospects, read the article.

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