Humans have been impacting the environment for centuries, and the oyster industry in Fairhope, Alabama is no exception. Anthropogenic activities such as dredging, constructing and maintaining shipping channels, coastal development, and pollution have all had a significant effect on the habitat conditions. For thousands of years, oysters have been growing in layers at the bottom of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta, with new generations growing on top of the old ones as new sediments filled the now flooded river valley. In 1923, a survey conducted by the state Department of Game and Fish revealed that almost none of the oysters consumed raw in Alabama at the time were from Mobile Bay.
At this time, oysters could only be harvested in Alabama with clamps - long wooden posts with metal rakes attached to the ends. In 1923 and 1933, legal changes were made to open parts of the bay to oyster dredging. Every oyster extracted from the reef is counted when oyster farmers weigh their catch at official oyster management stations near popular reefs. In 1909, state officials began trying to rebuild the reef by depositing young oysters extracted from the nearby Mississippi Strait.
This led to what scientists call scattered oysters - numerous oysters that don't pile up on a classic oyster reef. Unfortunately, this practice has caused a significant decrease in adult oysters and generations of young oysters over just a decade. In contrast, Mobile Bay oysters were sent directly to canneries while residents ate raw oysters from Florida and Mississippi. Estimates from federal authorities suggest that a pound of oyster meat usually contains about 15 oysters - meaning that the 1928 harvest consisted of around 27 million oysters.
On the east coast, near the oyster farms of Chesapeake Bay, scientists have observed crystal clear water halos where farmed oysters filter the water. In 1946, a destructive practice began - bay extraction for old deposits of oysters and clam shells for use as filling material in concrete. This has caused larvae to be deposited anywhere they find something hard - from another oyster shell to a sunken ship or lost anchor - leaving no room for new oysters to grow. Scientists are doubtful that it will be possible to cultivate oysters at or near old dredge cuts several generations from now. The impact of human activities on the environment has been felt by many industries, including the oyster industry in Fairhope, Alabama.
The introduction of dredging and pollution has had a detrimental effect on the habitat conditions for these creatures. The practice of bay extraction for old deposits of oysters and clam shells has also caused a decrease in adult and young oysters over time. The effects of these activities are still being felt today and will likely continue into future generations.