(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) planted about 3.4 million juvenile oysters, known as spat on shell, at the Campbell Family sanctuary reef in the Patapsco River Wednesday.
The spat was set with oyster larvae on recycled shells earlier this month at CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Center in Shady Side. The oysters were then transported to the granite-based reef and distributed into the water.
The work continues CBF's efforts to increase the spawning potential of oysters at reefs next to Fort Carroll, just south of the Baltimore Harbor. In December, CBF scientists discovered two natural spat sets during a semi-annual monitoring of the reef—an initial sign that the oysters are naturally reproducing.
Wednesday's planting continues efforts that began in 2017, when CBF planted three million spat on shell on the reef. Oysters are natural filters in the water. They eat algae and store nitrogen and phosphorous in their shells and flesh. The bivalves were once plentiful throughout the Chesapeake Bay, but over the past century their population has been decimated by overfishing, disease, and pollution. Scientists estimate the Bay's oyster population has dropped more than 98 percent. Oysters also provide habitat to crabs, fish, and other marine life.
"Oysters are an ecological marvel in the Chesapeake Bay," said Carmera Thomas, the Baltimore Program Manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Today's planting is another step at restoring the once abundant bivalves so Marylanders can benefit from their natural ability to improve water quality."
The reef was constructed with funding from the Maryland Port Administration through Maryland Environmental Service and the plantings are supported by the Abell Foundation, France-Merrick, and the Campbell Foundation.
Wednesday's planting coincides with the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership's successful efforts to raise 1 million oysters in cages along the Baltimore waterfront. Volunteers from Baltimore businesses, city schools, and residents have been raising oysters through a collaboration with Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore's Healthy Harbor Initiative, which began in 2014. The oysters grown in cages were later planted at a different reef near Fort Carroll to enable them to continue to grow.
CBF's large-scale oyster plantings and the volunteer efforts will exceed the Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership's goal of planting 5 million oysters in the Patapsco River by 2020.
"Thank you to the hundreds of Baltimore workers, students, and residents who helped us reach this goal," Thomas added. "However, efforts to restore oysters in the Bay are still at an early stage. We will continue adding more oysters to the Patapsco River near Baltimore."
The oysters planted outside the city are also helping the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance reach its goal of adding 10 billion new oysters in the Bay by 2025. The alliance is composed of government agencies, universities, conservation groups, community organizations, oyster farmers, watermen, and seafood businesses.