An Unexpected Protector Against Bangladesh's Rising Seas: Oysters

By 2050, up to 13.3 million Bangladeshis may be displaced due to rising sea levels, given trends in climate change. That's one in every seven affected. Kutubdia Island off the southern coast is already experiencing severe erosion, with masses of land and people retreating. Wanting to save the island, Mohammed Shah Nawaz Chowdhury, a research associate at the University of Chittagong, turned to an unexpected protector for help: oysters. In 2012, he hypothesized that oyster reefs could defend against coastal erosion by calming waves before they reached the shore. He spent the next six years with 27 students eco-engineering a model that took into account dynamics such as regular storm surges, monsoons and cyclones. With the help of local indigenous people, the team created circular concrete ring structures for oysters to cluster upon. The reef successfully dissipated waves even in stormy weather. Sedimentation began to accumulate as much as 100 ft behind it. Vegetation such as mangroves began to grow behind the reefs further aiding in coastal protection. Aad Smaal, emeritus professor at Wageningen University, says, "The idea is to use natural resources and build with nature because working against it just isn't feasible anymore."

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