Volunteer oyster gardeners set a record in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Virginia program this year, with 691 volunteers across Virginia’s tidal waterways raising and returning 146,533 oysters in 2023. These oysters were planted on nearby reefs, where they are filtering up to 7.3 million gallons of water per day. The total this year far surpasses CBF’s previous Virginia oyster gardening record of 104,000 oysters set in 2019.
“This year’s record-breaking oyster gardening numbers are due to two factors—favorable natural conditions for oysters in the water, and the outstanding dedication of our growing number of volunteers,” said CBF Virginia Oyster Outreach Coordinator Jessica Lutzow. “We work with everyone from individuals to businesses to schools to condo associations to raise oysters for restoration work. It’s such a fun way to create a tangible benefit for waterways.”
CBF’s oyster gardeners, as shown in this video, raise oysters in cages suspended from a dock. Over the course of a year, the baby oysters grow into adults, filtering water and creating habitat for aquatic life. Volunteer gardeners return year-old oysters to CBF, which places them on a nearby reef off-limits to harvest, where they grow and reproduce. These oysters contribute to the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance goal of adding 10 billion new oysters to the Bay by 2025.
For those who don’t live on the water, CBF can help gardeners raise oysters at one of 16 public locations, including marinas and other areas with access to tidal water.
This year CBF held 11 oyster gardening events in Hampton Roads, the Eastern Shore, the Northern Neck, and the Middle Peninsula. Partners in the effort include the Tides Inn, Nansemond River Preservation Alliance, Elizabeth River Project, Friends of the Rappahannock, and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, all COA partners.
Those interested in becoming an oyster gardener, or businesses with water access interested in becoming a public gardening location, can e-mail [email protected] and visit this link for more information.