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Driftwood in Marsh

Brand Story: Oystercatcher Lobby Bar

Responses shared by Josh Zalabak         

Earned Media and Community Engagement Coordinator
South Carolina Aquarium 

About the South Carolina Aquarium:


The South Carolina Aquarium, located in Charleston, South Carolina, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is located on the historic Charleston Harbor. The aquarium is home to more than ten thousand plants and animals including North American river otters, loggerhead sea turtles, alligators, great blue herons, owls, lined seahorses, jellyfish, pufferfish, green moray eels, horseshoe crabs, sea stars, pythons and sharks. The largest exhibit in the zoo is the Great Ocean Tank, which extends from the first to the third floor of the Aquarium and is the deepest tank in North America (42 feet); it holds more than 385,000 US gallons (1,460,000 l) of water and contains more than 700 animals. The South Carolina Aquarium also has their own Education Outreach team, which travels all over the state hoping to inspire people of all ages to care for water, wildlife and wild places.

Questions:


What is the importance of oysters in the Lowcountry?
In the Lowcountry, oysters are not only a staple appetizer in many restaurants but are also vital to our local saltmarsh ecosystems. A single oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, effectively cleaning our intercoastal waterways. Additionally, oysters help prevent land erosion in the salt marshes, which in turn helps to protect the Lowcountry from flooding. Oyster reefs provide shelter and food for over 120 different species including many commercially harvested fish and crustaceans. The economic and ecological importance of oysters in the Lowcountry cannot be overstated. 

What is the perfect habitat for oysters? 
Oysters can tolerate changing salinity and temperatures. In South Carolina, they often live in the intertidal zone of the salt marsh ecosystem, meaning they can survive out of water for approximately 6 hours at a time when the tides recede.  Baby oysters, called spat, need to land on a hard surface to grow. To facilitate the proliferation of these spat, the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program through DNR recycles uses oyster shells to return to the salt marshes to provide a hard surface in the pluff mud for these spat to attach. 

How many different varieties of oysters are found in the Lowcountry?
In the Lowcountry, we have the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica.

What does an oystercatcher look like? Are they easily identifiable?
The American oystercatcher is a unique looking bird that is easy to identify on land and in flight. Their most striking characteristics are their completely bright orange-red bills that are long and thin, and their yellow eyes. Their backs are almost completely black/brown and their underside is white. This is a form of camouflage that many animals exhibit called countershading. This allows them to blend into the earth to protect them from predators above, and blend into the sky when in flight. They are a “chunkier” species of shorebird, roughly the size of a crow, but with longer, pale legs. A bird they are sometimes confused with, the black skimmer, has similar body colors but an odd shaped bill that is black at the tip. 

What makes the Lowcountry a preferred habitat for oystercatchers?
American oystercatchers live in intertidal areas, such as saltmarshes, the surrounding beaches and on barrier islands where predators are minimal. The Lowcountry has an abundance of these habitats, making it the ideal region for an oystercatcher. American oystercatchers may migrate up and down the eastern coast, but many will live in the low country year-round. 

Where can oystercatchers be found in the Lowcountry?
Oystercatchers will be seen primarily in our salt marsh habitats, on large oyster mounds or sand/shell rakes. These are their ideal nesting areas. They can also be seen on the beaches.

What types of shellfish do oystercatchers eat?
Despite their name, oystercatchers do not only eat oysters. While they do dine on oysters often, they will also eat clams, mussels and other small invertebrates they find in the intertidal zones that they hunt. 

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