The James Beard Award–winning author of A Geography of Oysters, Fruitless Fall, and American Terroir, Rowan Jacobsen followed an expedition from the Puget Sound Restoration Fund to find out why the Olympia oyster, once a cornerstone of the waterway's ecosystem, was in steep decline—and if any surviving oyster beds could serve as a blueprint for restoration efforts in the sound.
"It is no small achievement to take a quest for a rare, relatively unknown oyster and spin it into a delightful and never didactic instruction on marine conservation from the Chesapeake to Puget Sound. The once abundant Olympia oyster, or Oly, now exists in only a few areas of the jagged Pacific Northwest coastline, and Jacobson and a merry band of conservationists and scientists set out to find the elusive bivalve and illustrate the vital ecosystem that both sustains and is sustained by oysters. Oysters are ecosystem engineers, Jacobson explains; their depletion sucks the life out of estuaries and oceans. He demonstrates the relationship between marine life and human survival, from the sustenance provided to native cultures over thousands of years, to the omega-3–rich shellfish that helped to sharpen the evolving human brain. Charming illustrations and a conservation resource list round out this slim and superb reminder of these simple creatures' vital importance to the grand scheme of life on land and sea."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A science-rich yet lambent investigation into the fate of the Olympia oyster.... Jacobsen is an artful storyteller, giving the oyster's story an aching bite. He is also a fine explicator, drawing clearly the pivotal role of the oyster in estuarine health.... The author ruminates on some fascinating ideas, from prehistoric clam gardens to the role of shellfish in tool-making to the shoreline-based theory of human origins, which holds that inhabitants of the coast benefited from the easy harvest of brain-enriching fish and shellfish. Lovely science writing, and a smart look into where the work of ecological restoration is headed."—Kirkus Reviews
"In 2008, [the author] signed on as the literary chronicler of a nine-member expedition ... [that] found a remote estuary off the coast of Vancouver Island that is literally paved with Olympia oysters, and that the resulting ecological data may provide the key to a resurgence of the species in bays and raw bars along the Northwest coast. But Jacobsen's experience also provided him with food for thought. Just as agriculture led to the spread of civilization in the Old World, he believes, aquaculture may have spread civilization in the New World.... He's equally persuasive in urging the preservation and protection of native shellfish habitats. After all, the oyster is his world."—Natural History