The Atlantic oyster of Chesapeake Bay has been the focus of intense economic and ecological pressures. In the 1880s it was the main source for America’s favorite food, and the oyster was overharvested to the point of scarcity. Three scientific discoveries concerning the oyster’s material properties have been paving its way back from the brink of extinction. First, William Keith Brooks studied the embryology of this oyster and showed that its shell served as a necessary part of its life cycle. Second, Roger Newell demonstrated the prodigious water filtration properties of this oyster and linked these properties to its ability to clean the estuary. The discovery of the filtration properties of the oyster was an affordance that enabled the oyster to “partner” with governmental agencies and NGOs who were attempting to restore the bay’s clean water, fish, and birdlife. Third, Standish K. Allen, Ximing Guo, and their colleagues formulated a procedure that enabled the manipulation of oyster development to yield tasty, fast-growing, and disease-resistant triploid oysters. The disease-resistant oysters together with knowledge of the oyster’s life cycle enabled the proliferation of the oyster by conservation groups. The goal of Chesapeake Bay conservation changed from “Save the oyster” to “Plant more oysters; help save the bay.” This paper is part of a special issue entitled “Making Animal Materials in Time,” edited by Laurence Douny and Lisa Onaga.

You do not currently have access to this content.