Maryland Oyster Restoration Center (ORC)
Volunteers build reef balls at CBF Maryland Oyster Restoration Center. Photo by CBF Staff.
Bringing Back Maryland's Native Oysters
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation recognizes that saving the Bay is uniquely tied to restoring the native oyster, Crassostrea virginica. The Bay's native oyster population has been estimated at as low as one percent of historic levels, making restoration critical to help improve the Bay’s water quality and increase its economic viability.
In support of re-establishing this keystone species, CBF established its Maryland Oyster Restoration Center (ORC) in 2002. The ORC houses several large tanks for use in producing juvenile oysters, called 'spat.' It is also home to CBF's restoration vessel Patricia Campbell. The 60-foot boat transports and places hatchery-produced seed oysters onto sanctuary reefs throughout Maryland waters and carries oyster shell and other materials for reef construction. The ORC serves as the central location for all of CBF’s oyster restoration activities in Maryland.
What We Do at the ORC
ORC houses several large tanks for use in producing juvenile oysters, called 'spat.' These setting tanks are loaded with oyster shell, and then filled with Bay water. Oyster larvae, usually produced by the University of Maryland's Horn Point Laboratory, are then released into the tanks. After a few days, these larvae attach, or 'set,' onto the old oyster shells, at which point they are called 'spat.' CBF and our volunteers produce millions of spat at ORC each year, and transplant them onto restored sanctuary reefs.
Restoration Vessel Patricia Campbell
ORC is also the home port of the innovative oyster restoration vessel Patricia Campbell. With its state-of-the-art technology, it is the most advanced vessel in the Bay being used for oyster restoration. Using the Patricia Campbell, CBF staff builds reefs and plants them with juvenile oysters. Among the vessel's highlights is its custom conveyor belt system for planting reef material and oysters with pin-point accuracy. This helps the crew build oyster reefs to exact specifications. Learn more about the Patricia Campbell.
Oyster Restoration Programs
CBF's Oyster Gardening program allows citizens and students to grow oysters alongside their docks. Gardeners raise the oysters from 'spat' to adult, and eventually plant them onto sanctuary oyster reefs. ORC serves as a hub for the Oyster Gardening program, and ORC volunteers help produce juvenile oysters and pre-cut materials for the program. Check our Oyster Gardening program page for more information and to find out how you can become an oyster gardener.
Save Oyster Shell
Oyster shells are becoming increasingly scarce. Through CBF's Save Oyster Shell program, shells that would typically be thrown away are saved and used as homes for baby oysters (spat). Check our Save Oyster Shell page for dropoff locations and participating restaurants.
CBF relies very heavily on volunteer help to make our oyster restoration programs work and we are always looking for new volunteers. Our busiest season at ORC is May through October.
If you'd like to get involved with CBF's oyster restoration program, here are a couple of options:
- Check out the Oyster Gardening and Save Oyster Shell programs listed above.
- Sign up as a volunteer to get added to our e-mail list. You’ll be notified when we need volunteers for hands-on field restoration projects.
- Book an educational field experience for your group aboard the vessel Marguerite. This program can be structured to include a one-hour tour of ORC and focus on oysters and oyster restoration. Please contact our Education Scheduling Office at [email protected] or call 410-268-8816.