Welcome to the third and last installment of my 3-part blog post series on oysters. Let's first go over the previous two installments that I wrote:
This blog post takes a deeper dive into the sustainability of not only oysters but marine aquaculture in general.
Of course, my good friend Alex Fergus has talked about sustainability and ethics regarding meat consumption. For instance, Alex has written a blog about why vegetarian and vegan diets can end up in disaster, and wrote an open letter to vegans about animal welfare.
In a way, here's a similar argument about aquaculture (including oysters) and the excellent sustainability profile 99.9% of people don't know about.
This blog post installment will be slightly shorter than previous installments but is nevertheless very important and teaches you that by consuming more shellfish, you're supporting healthy ecosystems. Let's go:
Lots of people carry guilt around eating meat specifically and animal foods in general.
That sentiment runs a lot deeper than you'd think.
Meat-free days and cutting down on animal protein are popular trends. The environment and animal well being are the most frequent reasons people have for cutting down on animal meats.
And no matter how many times carnivore diet proponents tell you that you don't have to feel guilt around eating meat, it's easier said than done for some.
But what if there's a "magic" solution to that problem? What if you could enjoy animal foods while saving the planet at the same time?
In the introduction of this blog post, I talked about oyster reefs. Oyster reefs are part of the solution, however, as ocean farming is the other part.
I also stated that new arable land is limited on this planet, and that most of that land is currently terribly managed. Combining pesticides, plowing, and animal feedlots, for example, mostly results in short-term higher levels of food production, at the cost of longer-term sustainability.
So the natural solution is to look at the seas and oceans. I'll thus treat the full topic of ocean aquaculture here.
But let's begin with some bad news:
87% of the world's fisheries are overexploited - at least in 2012. The problem is probably worse now.
Overexploitation means that fish extracted from the water exceed replacement rates. And fewer available wild fish also means that fewer of these animals procreate. The end result is a vicious cycle of fish depletion and extinction that looms.
And that's exactly what is happening.
Let's look at some global trends:
In the year 2000, about 135 million tons of seafood was produced. In 2010, that number increased to 165 million metric tons. By 2015, it's 200 million tons. And with a continuing trend, that number will be 235 million tons in 2020.
Not all that fish is wild though: wild production has leveled off around 80 million metric tons since 1990. If more is caught, oceans get depleted eventually because replacement rates don't match consumption.
Two-thirds of world fish and shellfish production is thus already farmed - and that trend continues because oceans can only provide so much food.
Recall that some farmed fish species are devastating to ocean health: farmed salmon requires 1-5 pounds of fish meal (smaller fish such as anchovies) to create 1 pound of finished product.
And the less smaller fish fed to farmed salmon, the poorer the nutrient profile generally becomes. Salmon were not meant to eat genetically modified corn, poultry litter, and antioxidant dyes (astaxanthin) for a better skin color.
Without the dye farmed salmon would be grey. But you wouldn't eat grey "stuff" so fish farms add colors. Now that toxic salmon looks healthy.
Many other problems exist with this aquaculture method, such as excessive waste in the form of excrements, lice of farmed fish that spread to their wild counterparts, and antibiotic use.
Now, the smaller fish used as feed on fish farms can be caught in a relatively non-destructive fashion, but it's still a shame. Small fish are also increasingly under pressure, and for sustainability purposes they are best consumed by humans, not fish.
Smaller fish play an essential role in any ocean ecosystem, and cannot be used in an unlimited fashion without ecological consequences.
And the biggest problem?
Just like meat which I mentioned in the introduction, fish consumption is also poised to increase massively in the coming decades.
Developing countries will experience huge population growths--developed world populations will flatline or slightly decline. The increase in fish consumption thus mostly stems from developing nations.
Developing countries will also be able to afford more fish. African and Asian countries are getting richer on a relative basis in the coming decades. The result of that development is that demand for marine foods grows ever more.
Remember that the overfishing trend was already problematic in the 1990s. All increases in fish consumption have since originated from aquaculture.
Catching more wild fish is thus simply unsustainable and impossible. A different solution is desperately needed...
Say goodbye to this view in 30 years?
I've said this in the introduction as well: oysters can be created very efficiently in different types of waters, without needing access to any external produce.
Well, recall that shellfish feed on phytoplankton.
Phytoplankton function on photosynthesis just like plants on the land do. Photosynthesis turns the sun's energy into chemical energy. Chlorophyll is found in both land plants and phytoplankton, and allows for that photosynthesis.
In a sense, oysters are the "cows of the ocean". Oysters harvest plant material and turn it into animal protein. And oysters, just like cows, aren't located at the top of the food chain.
Why does that foodchain matter?
Let me explain:
Salmon or swordfish are examples of marine life higher on the foodchain. These fish are predators that feed on smaller marine animals. Lions are land predators that feed (mostly) on herbivores.
Modern aquaculture that uses salmon to produce food is similar to a hypothetical process of feeding cows to lions, in order to then use lions as human food. Deadly inefficient...
Producing oysters is very efficient, on the contrary.
So let's look at why oysters are so promising as a solution:
Cows only need grass and water to grow. The only thing oysters need is clean seawater with phytoplankton.
See the similarity?
And contrary to my earlier consideration of oyster reefs, oysters can also be produced further into the water.
The traditional role of herbivores such as cows is to "mow" long grass. By cutting down grass that is too long and fertilizing that same area, the grass increases its speed of growth and the soil gains health.
The traditional role of shellfish is to filter some of the phytoplankton out of the water. As a result, ocean water becomes clearer and sunlight penetrates deeper into the ocean. Plants living in the ocean consequently grow faster.
Oysters additionally increase the biodiversity of nature.
Oyster reefs are basically "skyscrapers" built into the ocean that house many species. Oyster reefs expand both horizontally as vertically, adding more and more surface area over time.
Phytoplankton enters that "skyscraper" and then feeds these oysters:
Phytoplankton can grow exponentially under the right circumstances.[240; 241] In fact, with the right temperatures and light levels, phytoplankton "blooms" and can overtake large parts of lakes, seas, and oceans.
Curbing excess plankton is thus highly warranted and even beneficial to nature. Oysters are the perfect tool for that process.
Phytoplankton has other benefits though: many marine species graze on phytoplankton by converting them into energy. Excretions of such species then feed other species deeper in the ocean.
Phytoplankton also consumes CO2 from the atmosphere and transfer it to the water.[242-244]
Seeing another similarity?
Land-based soils such as grasses store CO2, just like plankton transfer CO2 from the air into the ocean. Both plankton and grass thus sequester carbon into the earth.
The exponential growth of plankton also ensure that you'll never be without the stuff. No matter how much plankton shellfish such as oysters consume, now plankton can very easily be recreated.
(Keep in mind that several types of plankton exist, such as zooplankton (which are carnivores and don't photosynthesize, and macroplanton, which are bigger.[245-247] About 5,000 phytoplankton species have been identified.)
So all in all, many shorelines can be splattered with oyster reefs. That strategy massively increases food production and acts as a natural barrier against floods and erosion as well.
Want even more marine food production?
Then there's a simple solution for those people in Africa and Asia who want fish:
Shellfish don't have to be farmed very close to the shore. Shellfish can also be farmed at some distance form the shore and deeper into the ocean. For example:
Also watch the following video:
With more deep sea aquaculture, the planet could easily be fed, possibly a whopping 10 times over. There's thus no overpopulation problem - from a food perspective at least.
Another upside about deep sea aquaculture?
No pesticides, herbicides, antibiotics, or fertilizer needed. You only create foods that are low on the food chain, living off plankton.
Ocean farming is incredibly efficient because you can farm as deep as you'd like. On average, anywhere on this planet, the ocean is about 5 kilometers deep. All those kilometers can potentially be used for food production, if necessary.
Just one big farm of the size of an average US state, when depth is maximized, is sufficient to feed the world.
Keep in mind that the world is made up 70% of oceans. So when used effectively, the Earth could potentially feed 100 billion people. Of course, many other resources would become too scarce for proper survival.
What exists is a creativity and entrepreneurial shortage in the food domain. The next "Bill Gates" who thus applies these principles to ocean farming will be filthy rich.
Of course, the danger of allowing ocean farming to roam free is that people start taking shortcuts.
Currently, ocean farms can already be and are pollution-free. A strong case can be made that for legislation so that the ocean farm system does not end up like the terrible state of land-based farming.
Local pollution has global consequences today. Some parts of the land-based food system can only exist because the costs of pollution can be externalized upon other people.
GMOs can end up on another person's land. Land erosion due to excessive plowing can cause problems for your neighbor. Manure from feedlots is toxic waste and cannot go back on the land.
Without legislation for ocean farming, I fear that such practices will also occur there. Pesticides and antibiotics will then be used very quickly in deep-sea aquaculture. How? I don't know.
Nonetheless, such strategies always increase profit of producers, at cost of the society at large. Such strategies will be used if possible, that's how the current system works.
Fortunately, the potential of sustainable deep-sea aquaculture for food production is limitless. There's thus no fundamental need to take ecological shortcuts.
Even sea vegetables such as seaweed can be easily produced on oceans. Sea vegetables have an extraordinarily high mineral density compared to most land vegetables, and can be a very healthy choice (depending on your health context).
Sea vegetables also take more CO2 out of the air than land plants do. Additionally, a seaweed such as kelp even acts as the perfect fertilizer for land foods:
And even if you don't believe in climate change, you'll like the possibility of these foods feeding the world.
So that's it. Let's finally conclude...
Oh, by the way...
Ready to start working on your health today? Grab my 20-day mini course via e-mail on how to start working on your health for massive long-term improvements. No quick fixes given:
So oysters don't just have tremendous health benefits, bringing up the best in humanity, but are also great for saving the world.
Are you a 25 year old? My advice:
So what should you become?
Become an ocean farmer.
Start your own mussel and oyster farm at the deep sea. Grow your own superfood and become rich in the process.
One of my favorite economic commentators, Jim Rogers, has said that people working at Goldman Sachs should start learning to drive tractors instead of Ferrari's.
And he's right. Farmers are getting older by the day so there's a huge opportunity there. But if you're really ballsy you don't become a farmer on land but on sea.
Feed the world.
No: save the world.
Give your fellow humans their (over)load of vitamins and minerals. Supply everyone with such high-quality food that fortification of wheat is no longer necessary.
Give everyone those higher energy levels, better fertility, improved cognition, well being, and beauty. The oyster health benefits are endless...
And for God sake:
You'll be living on the ocean, in the sun, 300 days a year. You'll be living in paradise. And you're getting paid to do so.
Why aren't I doing that?
I've got my own mission.
But please grow some oysters for me - I'll never tire of their taste. I need that improved energy, dopamine, and sleep quality. The same is true for all older folks. I'm turning 33 next week, so I belong to those older folks as well...
(Edit: now I'm editing this work in 2021, I'm 35!)
You probably do too.
But we do celebrate the youth and energy that oysters bring...
This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - with distinction), and Clinical Health Science (MS), has had training in functional medicine, and is currently a health consultant at Alexfergus.com.
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