Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Thanet's conjoined oysters

During the recent Fircroft school trip I was so amazed how fascinated everyone was when they came across an area of large pacific oyster shells, especially those shells that were conjoined. Something I admit I just take for granted when walking the beaches. I often think like with most things Thanet people from outside Thanet look at things more with an artistic eye than us locals. So judging by this photograph I can now see why. Each conjoined oyster is unique with a mixed range of colour and shape leaving them open to interpretation whether it be craft or plain natural.
Pacific oysters have now been on our shoreline in large numbers for over two decades and are now classed as an invasive species by Natural England. Locally there is a local expert on the subject and his name is Willie McKnight, his work can be accessed on the internet for further reading.
Thanet's pacific oysters originated from the spat from the outlet pipes of the North Kent oyster farms and against all odds have bedded down on the chalk reef around the Thanet coastline. In some areas of coast this has had very little impact but in some bays they have formed reefs that is out competing indigenous species. To date Natural England have culled around 75,000 oysters in critical areas in a bid to contain the species. Over the past few winters many of the shells from the cull have made their way ashore along with the batches of shell from the winter kill.
In the photograph are shells from the winter kill that had been bedded on a unstable base like soft chalk, flint or another shellfish. The rough winter sea  has dislodged the mass of shell from the oyster reef and worked its way ashore providing winter feed for sea birds. The shells then break apart and become scattered and buried in the sand close to the strandline and eventually to breakdown naturally. These shells in the photgraph are a couple of years old and have been slightly stained by the natural mineral elements in the sand and I suppose they do have this appeal.


Anonymous said...

They are very good to eat, although do check with fisheries officer at Ramsgate in case there is water quality issue. I always collect mine from man made structures like the sea defence wall. This ensures the oysters are fresh and no damage is done to the chalk reef. Filter for three days in daily changed sea water in a bucket ( this allows you to check for any dead ones , when you tap them they should close). Eaten raw or cooked they are excellent. Although they are classed as invasive, they do not occupy the same niche as our native oysters. There are other new species far more dangerous to our local flora and fauna.
Alasdair Bruce

Tony Ovenden said...

Alsidair what interests me is what happens to the base of the shells after the cull.
The people who were doing the cull were trained to knock off the top hinge leaving the base intact without damage the chalk. Some bases are coming of the chalk naturally, many however remain fused into the chalk and that is interesting.