Ariakensis: The Answer or Frankensteins Oyster?
The Asia-originated oyster ariakensis loved its new home.
At the end of the summer of 2001, a team of scientists walked away from a salty tidal pond off the Rappahannock River in Virginias Northern Neck leaving part of their experiment behind.
Over the next three years, while Maryland, Virginia and the National Academy of Scientists pondered protocols for introducing ariakensis oysters into Chesapeake waters, the abandoned oysters grew and prospered.
They slipped through the hands of science just as Dr. Frankensteins monster escaped to make his own way in the world.
The oysters were lost in an experiment under the direction of Jim Wesson, Virginias man on oyster restoration. As Wesson recalled for Bay Weekly, some hundred experimental oysters were set out in a wire enclosure like crabpot wire. Wesson chose the muddy backwater to see if the oysters which hed been testing since 1997 under legislative direction to bring Virginia oysters that could survive in the troubled Bay would be strong enough pumpers in mud. With two inches of water and a foot of mud at low tide, it was a good site for the experiment. An equal batch was set out on a sandy site.
They did wonderful in both sites, Wesson remembers.
|photo by Larry Chowning for the Southside Sentinel, Urbana, Virginia.
Forgotten and abandoned for three years, ariakensis oysters recovered from a Virginia creek, grew to the size of a mans palm.
When the oysters were retrieved at summers end, some just how many depends on whos telling the story were pushed underfoot down into the muck.
But the muck didnt keep them down. These are good strong animals that pumped themselves out, said Wesson. Unaware, they were still doing our test for us and doing very well.
By the time of their rediscovery, the oysters had grown as big as dinner plates, according to the firsthand account of Capt. Bob Jensen, a Virginia oyster-restoration entrepreneur.
Thats not surprising to anybody whod worked with them, said Wesson. They get nice and thick and heavy.
Jensen, who has oystering plans of his own in the tidal pond, is rejoicing, too, claiming that muck-loving ariakensis is just the animal to help make Chesapeake waters fit for native oysters. This is an animal that will thrive, he said.
Are we ready to pin Chesapeake Countrys oystering future on a creature supersized like a 64-ounce slurpee?
Not just yet.
Weve learned a thing or two about ariakensis, but not enough to push Maryland and Virginia sooner toward their shared goal of restocking Chesapeake waters with fertile ariakensis.
These ariakensis are so full of surprises they might be the answer. Or they might be Frankensteins oyster.