The sounds oysters love

I’ve been reading a novel by Amy Harmon titled “A Girl Called Samson.” I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, but from time to time I pick up and enjoy such book. Harmon’s novel is entertaining with just the right amount of complexity to keep my interest as she unfolds a bit of her research about the founding of the United States. There are details in the lives of the characters that are, I am sure, based on that research. For example she reports the use of fireworks at a military celebration held during the Revolutionary war. Despite the words of our national anthem about “the rockets’ red glare,” I don’t particularly associate fireworks with that period of time. Fireworks, however, have been a part of human celebrations from 200 BC, so it makes sense that there were fireworks available to be used as part of celebrations during that period of history.

Somehow, we in the United States have arrived at July 4 as the holiday when we are most likely to use fireworks. Perhaps there is a connection between the use of pyrotechnics and our national holiday that goes back to the revolution itself. Historians report that fireworks were part of the first recognition of July 4 held in Philadelphia in 1777. Of course there are lovers of fireworks for whom once a year simply isn’t enough. We hear plenty of blasts around new years as well as those surrounding July 4.

Our Canadian neighbors have different days for their pyrotechnic blasts. There are a few Canadians who light of fireworks on Guy Fawkes Night in early November, a British annual commemoration of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot to disrupt parliament. Bonfires are also part of that observance. Fireworks are also part of the annual observance of Victoria Day. Victoria Day used to be observed on May 24, the day of Victoria’s natural birthday. However, as part of the observance of Monday Holidays, it is now observed on the penultimate Monday in May (the last Monday preceding May 24). Today is the day for that observance.

I’m not really expecting fireworks. We have noticed an influx of Canadian tourists visiting our community on the weekend that signals the start of the summer vacation season for them. They are, for the most part, pretty quiet and those who celebrate with a trip south of the border don’t seem inclined to the kind of celebrations that bother others with the noise.

In honor of Victoria Day, the annual Oysterfest, a community celebration fo the oyster fishing industry was moved this year from its traditional October date to Victoria Day weekend. Saturday saw lots of local celebrations including a street fair, cooking demonstrations, ferry rides, and kids’ activities. A $20 dollar ticket allowed celebrants to sample oysters at several different local restaurants up and down the street. It is pretty clear that the festival, while celebrating the local oyster farming industry, is aimed at attracting tourists from Canada.

There is a rather obscure connection between sound and the oyster industry. It was enough for me to make a connection between holidays where fireworks are used and our local celebration of a Canadian holiday. Centuries of over harvesting, habitat degradation and disease have pushed the global oyster population to the brink of extinction. It is estimated that 85% of global oyster reefs have been lost in the past 150 years. Reefs were destroyed by dredge fishing which destroyed the habitat by scraping the oysters from the sea floor leaving no natural substrate for them to regenerate. Our local oyster industry is based on extensive farming operations. Oyster larvae are bred in hatcheries. Most of the local oysters are imported from hatcheries in Hawaii. The “spat,” as larvae settled on oyster shells are called, are placed on the seabed in Drayton Harbor where they are raised to maturity. This is an expensive process and accounts for the high price that oysters command.

Scientists researching natural ways to attract oyster larvae naturally spawned in the ocean to beds that have been restored by placing oyster shells on the sea floor. They have discovered that oyster larvae react to sounds. They played sounds of seagrass meadows, healthy rocky reefs, and other underwater recordings and discovered what sounds oysters prefer. By introducing artificial sounds to and underwater environment scientists have been able to attract baby oysters. Among the sounds that are inviting to the creatures is the sound of snapping shrimp, which indicates a healthy reef. For oysters at least, playing the sounds of the sea is an effective technique for habitat restoration.

It isn’t exactly fireworks, but the use of sound as part of the restoration of natural oyster habitat is a fascinating display of human ingenuity.

As a newcomer to the ocean’s edge, however, I haven’t got the faintest clue without snapping shrimp sound like. I don’t have the skills of a successful oyster farmer. And I don’t know which sounds are most attractive to tourists from the north who come to our community and spend their money at local businesses. I’m thinking that most of the tourists who head our way are drawn more by the quietness of our little village than by our sounds. We see the tourists setting up their chairs and umbrellas along the shore and simply soaking up the sunlight and enjoying a long holiday weekend when the weather allows them to be outside.

So, of course, it may be a disappointment to our guests that it is raining this morning. The forecast calls for rain today and tomorrow after sunny and warm days last week. At least our guests got Friday, Saturday, and Sunday as days to sit on the beach and many of them may be intending to pack up and head home today in order to return to work tomorrow, so the rain probably didn’t put much of a damper on their holiday. All of the oysterfest activities seemed to come off without a hitch on Saturday.

Unlike my ignorance about the sound of snapping shrimp, I do know what rain on the roof sounds like. It is a gentle sound that invites calm and rest. It might be a good day for a nap.

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