(BALTIMORE, MD)—A surging number of business representatives, students, and other volunteers have successfully raised thousands of oysters in the Inner Harbor as part of the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership. In less than two years, the partners are more than halfway toward a five-year goal of planting 5 million oysters at Fort Carroll sanctuary reef in the Patapsco River. Over the next two weeks, this season's baby oysters will be collected, transported by boat and planted on the reef.
The Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership, a collaboration between the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore's Healthy Harbor Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, was launched in October 2013. In 2015, the partnership set a goal to plant 5 million oysters in Baltimore's Patapsco River by 2020.
The hope was to restore a small part of the oyster population that once was a fundamental part of Baltimore and Maryland's identity, economy, and ecosystem, and also to help educate Baltimore citizens about the important role that oyster play in providing habitat and filtering the water. The collection and planting of this season's baby oysters come on the heels of Waterfront Partnership's annual Report Card on the Harbor's water quality.
"The response from businesses, schools, and the general public has been incredible. This year we doubled the volunteers we had last year," said Carmera Thomas, program manager for the Healthy Harbor Initiative. "There is something about oysters and their contribution to clean water and our Maryland history that motivates people."
Oysters are considered a "keystone species" in the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay but the oyster population has been decimated by pollution, over-harvesting, and disease. Federal, state, and non-governmental organizations have teamed up to create large sanctuary reefs where oysters can grow in relative safety.
Baltimore volunteers start growing baby oysters in the fall. They fill wire cages with tiny oysters attached to old oyster shells and the cages are hung in the Harbor from piers and other structures. Over the winter, the volunteers clean the cages on a monthly basis. The oysters grow to the size of a quarter and are then planted on the Fort Carroll reef. This year, the volunteers also helped paint murals, and even went to Annapolis to advocate for environmental legislation.
As part of the Oyster Partnership, local corporate sponsors such as Legg Mason, T. Rowe Price, BGE/Constellation, Brown Advisory, Whitman, Requardt & Associates, businesses such as Baltimore Marine Center at Lighthouse Point, Downtown Sailing Center, Harbor East Marina, and schools such as Baltimore Lab School, Baltimore Yacht Basin, and Digital Harbor High School initially agreed to contribute at least 150,000 baby oysters a year, called spat-on-shell, to the effort. CBF committed to contribute an additional 850,000 spat annually grown at the organization's hatchery in Shady Side, MD.
The partners' efforts have far surpassed those commitments. Last year the volunteers raised a total of 173,697 spat and this year the partnership hopes to exceed that number. The oysters have grown and survived over the mild winter this year. Additionally, about 100,000 spat were grown and planted by the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership in 2014-2015. This April, CBF planted a total of three million spat using its custom oyster boat, the Patricia Campbell. These totals bring the partners well past the halfway mark of five million, and after only three growing seasons.
As impressive as the oyster production is the growing number of local volunteers—in 2016 about 250 volunteers participated, while this year over 660 took part.