Native oyster reefs once dominated many estuaries, ecologically and economically. Centuries of resource extraction exacerbated by coastal degradation have pushed oyster reefs to the brink of functional extinction worldwide. We examined the condition of oyster reefs across 144 bays and 44 ecoregions; our comparisons of past with present abundances indicate that more than 90% of them have been lost in bays (70%) and ecoregions (63%). In many bays, more than 99% of oyster reefs have been lost and are functionally extinct. Overall, we estimate that 85% of oyster reefs have been lost globally. Most of the world's remaining wild capture of native oysters (> 75%) comes from just five ecoregions in North America, yet the condition of reefs in these ecoregions is poor at best, except in the Gulf of Mexico. We identify many cost-effective solutions for conservation, restoration, and the management of fisheries and nonnative species that could reverse these oyster losses and restore reef ecosystem services.
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Vol. 61 • No. 2