Maryland’s Severn River Oyster Restoration to Get Major Boost From National Grant

A large-scale, community-led oyster restoration initiative in Maryland’s Severn River will kick off in early 2024 thanks to a coastal resiliency grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and Department of Defense (DOD). The effort will restore six acres of oyster reefs and plant 30 million spat on shell oysters, benefitting Annapolis-area communities—including the U.S. Naval Academy—which are extremely vulnerable to nuisance flooding events and sea level rise.

Oyster reefs act as natural buffers, reducing wave energy, storm surge, and coastal flooding. The oyster reefs restored by this project will support natural coastal defenses in the Severn River, where more than 97 percent of oyster reefs have been lost due to overharvesting, disease, and loss of habitat.

The project, called “Readiness and Resilience: Oyster Restoration in the Severn River,” will be implemented by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Severn River Association (SRA), U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Naval Support Activity Annapolis (NSAA), and will build off of CBF and others’ long history of oyster restoration in the Severn River. 

“The Annapolis area is experiencing the effects of climate change at an alarming rate. These communities, including the Naval Academy, rely on oysters and a healthy and resilient Severn River to mitigate those challenges,” said Allison Colden, CBF’s Maryland Executive Director. “Chesapeake Bay tributaries have national significance, and this investment from NFWF and DOD proves that.”

In November, NFWF announced nearly 100 new National Coastal Resilience Fund (NCRF) grants totaling $144 million. Of those projects, 11 were supported by the DOD’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, which contributes to NFWF’s NCRF annually. These projects support a dual mission of protecting and restoring environmentally sensitive areas that also make U.S. military bases and training sites more resilient to climate change. 

Over the past 50 years, Annapolis has experienced a 925 percent increase in annual nuisance flooding events, the greatest increase recorded for any U.S. city. Since 1929, relative sea level in Annapolis has risen more than 1.06 feet, making city and USNA infrastructure vulnerable to major storms. In 2003, Hurricane Isabel caused more than $120 million in damage to the Academy, according to a 2019 report.

“NSA Annapolis (NSAA) and the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) rely on the Severn River and the Chesapeake Bay to accomplish the mission of training the Navy’s future leaders,” said Captain Chris Schwarz, Commanding Officer of NSA Annapolis. “Mission readiness and installation resilience at both NSAA and USNA will benefit from the habitat, water quality, and recreational improvements produced by this project.”

“The Severn River Association is pleased to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on this oyster restoration project, which will increase aquatic habitat and filter water in the Severn, while simultaneously providing critical climate resilience for the U.S. Naval Academy,” said SRA Executive Director Jesse Iliff. “The Naval Academy has minted generations of the finest naval officers in the world dedicated to protecting our nation. It is SRA's great privilege and honor to work with the Bay Foundation now to return the favor and help protect the Academy from the impacts of climate change.”

In addition to restoring six acres of oyster reef (including two acres of substrate reef) and planting 30 million spat on oyster shells, the partners will also engage 35 volunteer oyster gardeners per year, recycle 1,000 bushels of oyster shells, and train six early career environmental professionals through internships. The $843,400 grant will be matched with $244,000 in private funding raised by CBF, totaling $1,087,500 towards the project. Restoration work will begin in early 2024 and is predicted to be complete by the end of 2026.


Valerie Keefer

Maryland Communications & Media Relations Manager, CBF

[email protected]

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