Fr Carlos Luis SAC
Oyster shells have the dual advantage of being decorative items in landscaping and preventing soil erosion. You can beautify your garden in an affordable and sustainable manner but, moreover, the oyster shells help regulate the soil’s environment. The process of soil respiration is also boosted due to the presence of oyster shells.
Oyster shells, if meticulously cleaned, could have an ornamental use in making wreaths and decorations. But shouldn’t these shells be back in the waters to create the magic of regeneration?
Bio-crusaders from Sancoale and Chicalim bay have been tirelessly attempting to re-establish the oyster supply to become partners in the conservation and preservation of ecological bio-diversity.
The recent guidelines by the state government’s Department of Environment and Climate Change make the locals the guardians of this bio-resource and rightly so. While modern techniques of harvesting can pose a threat, it is best to resort to traditional methods as the guidelines suggest.
Locals within the 5-km radius will be aware that the hooded oysters on the bare rocky rubble at low tide need to be chipped with sickles, and the brackish water oysters present at the bottom of the creek need to be carefully sifted through the soft sediment, with gloved hands for protection from the sharp oyster shells. Sometimes the locals will pick an oyster cluster which needs to be returned to the same waters for the oyster larvae to attach and grow further.
The locals shuck, clean and discard the shells just outside their homes, which are at the banks of the creeks. This allows the water to hit these piles of mother shells letting them go back into the waters and helping the young oysters propagate. If the harvesting is done by anyone other than the locals, it may lead to the overexploitation of oysters, clams, mussels, other shellfish and critical bio-resources.
They may harvest not just the oysters, but also large clusters of oysters ie the mother shells. The mother shells or the missing dead shells will not find a home and will be left dysfunctional. The removal of the oyster shells leads to the decline of oyster production. Thus, giving the locals the prerogative and making them responsible for the clams and oysters in their bay, is a welcome move.
The local Biodiversity Management Committees should be vigilant to not allow themselves to fall prey to the commercial benefits of harvesting clams and oysters. The issue is not just overharvesting but, correspondingly, the release of pollutants into the estuary. The pollutants from unutilised iron ore barges and, similarly, the domestic sewage that makes its way into these creeks pose a great threat to the natural resources.
Timely support for the growth of blue bio-economy can aid our focus on social upliftment and sustainable development. It can assure us and the generations to come a safe future. The challenge is to rope in local stakeholders, who will be ready and willing to take this Herculean task of sustaining these biotic resources and their habitat.
Windowpane oysters have adorned our Goan homes for a long time now. It is time to let these species do their magic in the waters rather than in our homes. Chicalim bay was home to these luxurious oysters and many more, and given the emphasis on restoring this bio-resource, we are sure to see it thrive. The bio-resource all over the state can breathe a sigh of relief. At last, the true masters of the bio-resource – the locals – will unquestionably take good care of them.
(The writer is a priest belonging to the Society of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine) and currently the Mission Secretary of the ABVM Province, Bangalore. He comments on Literature and Films that mirror life)