Oyster Reef Can Save Chesapeake Bay


Andrew Harrer

Photo by Andrew Harrer of Bloomberg

Maryland is now the home of the world’s largest man-made oyster reef. With a very distressed oyster population from being overfished and a couple of killer diseases, this reef is stock full of oysters. According to The Washington Post, Harris Creek is the first completed reef with help from the Army Corps, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Nature Conservancy and others. This reef could be the savior of the devastated oyster population nationwide. Mark Bryer, director of the Chesapeake Bay program for the nonprofit Nature Conservancy says this is one of the good things happening in the Chesapeake as he describes the whole process of making the reef and populating it with oysters.

It all started at the Horn Point Laboratory run by the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science in Cambridge. The lab grew the baby oysters, called spat and those produced are put in tanks where they are fed algae until they are ready to naturally attach to shells. With shells at a minimum due to overfishing of the oyster population, the Oyster Recovery Partnership of Maryland improvised a solution. They contracted businesses in Louisiana for spent oyster shells and enquired that restaurants of the DMV area take discarded shells and place them in a special bin for pickup by the partnership.

The shells were sent to Cambridge and poured to form tiny mountains outside of the lab where a tractor later carries them to a dock off the Choptank River. The millions of larval oysters and then taken to the tanks full of oyster shells where the spat search and attach to a shell until they grow bigger. Once old enough, a boat takes them across the Choptank River to the Harris Creek Reef where they are dumped overboard.

With a near extinct oyster population and an abundance of nitrogen polluting the Chesapeake Bay, the end result of this process is that oyster reefs will grow to become diverse and flourishing ecosystems where oysters, along with 24,500 other marine animals, will filter the nitrogen that currently infects the Chesapeake. This is a very important step in the restoration of the oyster population and the water filtering system that comes with it.