Oyster Reef Thrives Below Abandoned Harbor Fort

Oysters being planted AJ Metcalf_1171x593

CBF's Patricia Campbell oyster restoration vessel plants oysters on a sanctuary reef near Fort Carroll in Baltimore, Maryland.

A.J. Metcalf/CBF Staff

The following was first published in the Baltimore Banner.

The manmade, abandoned island in the middle of Baltimore Harbor, known as Fort Carroll, might not look like much, but it's teeming with life. And I don't just mean the birds and rats on the surface—a robust and thriving oyster reef exists in the waters below.

The tragic collapse of the Key Bridge shed renewed light on the island, as did recent reporting by The Baltimore Banner.

It's true that Fort Carroll is a staple feature that many crossing the Key Bridge have seen and pondered. But there's much more than meets the eye.

The story of Fort Carroll continues underwater, where the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and partner organizations have supported a flourishing oyster reef for more than 30 years. Just since 2018, we've planted 6 million oysters there.

This reef—one we affectionately call the Keith Campbell Family Reef in honor of the Baltimore funder who's responsible for much of our work—is a keystone of Baltimore Harbor education. Every spring, year-old oysters that have been grown and cared for by local oyster gardening volunteers are planted here. Additionally, almost every day during the school year, students from across Maryland join the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Baltimore Harbor Education Program to learn about the reef and the vibrant ecosystem it supports lurking just below the surface.

Just one day before the bridge collapse, foundation staff members were assessing the reef and found evidence of natural spat set, the settlement of wild juvenile oysters on the restored reef. That is an amazing sign for the reef's health and productivity—no small feat in an urban environment that's surrounded by industry and has experienced decades of historic pollution.

Oysters themselves are natural water filters and are critical to improving Chesapeake Bay health. Their reefs provide habitat for hundreds of species, including Maryland staples such as blue crabs and striped bass. Baltimore was once a hub of the commercial oyster industry, but the oyster population is now just a fraction of what it was due to overharvesting, disease and pollution.

Today, the status of the oysters at Fort Carroll is unknown. The island sits within the 2,000-yard safety zone around the bridge salvage efforts, and any surveys of the reef and environmental impacts are likely to follow the ongoing recovery efforts.

But despite that reality, the reefs at Fort Carroll give us hope. Even in what might seem like the unlikeliest of places, oysters have proven themselves resilient and will help us grow a better future.

Kellie Fiala 90x110

Kellie Fiala

Maryland Oyster Restoration Coordinator , CBF

[email protected]

Issues in this Post

Fisheries   Eastern Oysters   Restoration  


The views and opinions expressed in the media or articles on this site are those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions held by CBF and the inclusion of such information does not imply endorsement by CBF. CBF is not responsible for the contents of any linked Website, or any link contained in a linked Website, or any changes or updates to such Websites. The inclusion of any link is provided only for information purposes.

Support the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

Donate Today


Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or advocating for a clean Bay, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.

This website uses cookies to tailor and enhance your online experience. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, including details on how to disable cookies, please visit our Privacy Policy. Close