To promote oyster aquaculture, outreach, and research in Maryland and Virginia, the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance (COA) will award 15 organizations a total of $140,000 for this year's Oyster Innovation Awards, a grant program funded by Chesapeake Bay Foundation and administered by Chesapeake Bay Trust.
Oysters are natural water filterers. Their reefs also serve as essential habitat for marine life such as fish and crabs.
The 2024 grant awardees, spanning across Maryland and Virginia, will use the funds for a variety of innovative oyster-related projects, including new technologies to improve oyster health, stock, and reproduction, new educational opportunities for communities that have limited access to the Bay, habitat restoration, aquaculture solutions, and more.
“These intrepid partner organizations are very deserving of our 2024 Oyster Innovation Awards, and we are thrilled to support their work,” said Tanner Council, COA Senior Manager. “This program magnifies and accelerates the innovation happening in the region and will bring the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance and its partners closer to our goal of adding 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025 by expanding aquaculture, supporting educational opportunities, and improving monitoring techniques.”
COA, which was founded by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in 2018, is a coalition of more than 100 non-profits, academic institutions, oyster growers, and other businesses, all of whom are eligible for these grants. For each year of the program, funds for COA’s Oyster Innovation Awards are provided by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation while Chesapeake Bay Trust administers the application process and grants themselves.
“We know that, like all areas of Bay restoration, oyster restoration is more effective when more people are empowered and involved,” said Jana Davis, Ph.D., president of the Chesapeake Bay Trust. “This year’s awardees will not only advance oyster aquaculture and increase oyster population in the Bay, but also strengthen and diversify the aquaculture industry, educate young people, and get resident stewards involved monitoring water quality.”
This year’s grant recipients include the following, which are broken down by state:
- Minorities In Aquaculture’s “Workforce Development and Internship Program” – This program fills the gaps and provides greater diversity within the aquaculture workforce. The membership community offers access to paid internships, career mentorship and seafood education to minorities and women of color.
- Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park’s “Oyster Education Program: Prepping the Next Gen Oyster Enthusiasts” – Through this program, students learn the vital role oysters play in our region’s economy, ecology, biology, climate resilience, policy, and history. In 2024, that experience will be expanded to include three new Anne Arundel County schools, broadening opportunities for oyster learning at the Back Creek Education Center and Park Campus, and in classrooms.
- Arundel Rivers Federation’s “Oyster Robotics Education and Monitoring” – This project will support a series of workshops to result in student-led design, development, and a submersible robot capable of capturing visual and water quality data. Data collected and interpreted by students at South River High School will be shared with the Federation and wider Anne Arundel County community.
- Baywater Seafood, LLC’s “Recirculating Aquaculture System – Oyster Broodstock Condition System” – Development of a self-contained oyster broodstock conditioning system will allow oysters to be conditioned for spawning in a recirculating system, improving animal health and reproduction away from a shoreside water source. The system will focus on small-scale oyster hatcheries. It will help improve seed availability and survival on smaller farms by allowing the hatchery to start oyster conditioning sooner in the season.
- Blue Oyster Environmental’s “Monitoring Survival Rates of Oysters Set on a Novel Substrate” – Primarily conducted in Crocheron and Fishing Bay, this project will include fabrication of aluminum cages to securely hold a new clay-based substrate, introduction of oyster larvae onto this substrate, and systematic monitoring to assess the survival rates of oysters as they grow and develop.
- Coastal Conservation Association Maryland’s “Habitat Today, Fish Tomorrow: Showing Oysters Through a New Lens” – The grant will help CCA Maryland expand the reach of their existing habitat program, the Living Reef Action Campaign. The effort will prioritize connecting with BIPOC and bilingual organizations and community members, furthering the public's understanding of the important role artificial reefs and oysters play in a healthy Bay.
- Eastport Yacht Club’s “Videographic Documentation of an 11-Year-Old Oyster-Seeded Vertical Wave Wall at a Marina in Annapolis, MD” – The effort aims to provide scientifically informed videographic and photographic documentation of a now 11-year-old oyster-seeded wave wall at the Eastport Yacht Club boat Marina at the mouth of the Severn River. Through collaboration with regional experts, the group intends to further the progress of oyster-reef monitoring while creating new video to engage citizens, with a special focus on junior sailors and fifth graders involved in the EYC Foundation's summer STEM program.
- Oyster Girl Oysters’ “A Simple, Novel, Low-Cost System for Flipping Oyster Cages” – This technical innovation aims to greatly reduce the labor associated with control of cleaning cages for oysters grown in floating cages. The proposed solution involves automating the flipping process using a specially designed ramp attached to the workboat.
- Severn River Association, Inc.’s “Direct Setting of Larvae for Oyster Restoration in the Severn River” – SRA plans to advance oyster restoration by developing protocols for oyster stock enhancement in the mesohaline Severn River by directly setting oyster larvae onto hard substrates in situ, thereby reducing the cost of restoration efforts. As follow up, SRA will survey setting success with volunteer divers in spring 2025.
- ShoreRivers’ “Inspiring Oyster Advocates through Education” – ShoreRivers will create more educational opportunities and experiential field trips. This effort will increase the knowledge and confidence of its volunteers and students, as well as inspire new stewards of Bay waterways through Oyster restoration.
- St. Mary's River Watershed Association’s “An Inexpensive, Quality-Assured Solution for Oyster Habitat Remote Water Quality Monitoring” – The project will add quality assurance to the Association’s five low-cost remote water quality monitoring devices. Their 2023 work focused on developing and assembling the kits, calibrating instruments, deploying the devices, collecting and analyzing data, and generating public interest using Internet of Things technology. This year’s work will refine the kit design, upgrade and expand sensors, build two new devices, develop cage cleaning protocols, and publish a user-friendly data dashboard.
- Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Inc.’s “The Great Baltimore Oyster Partnership” – The partnership will contribute to the restoration of the Chesapeake Bay’s native oyster population and engage underserved communities in the restoration process. The oyster gardening program provides a unique volunteer opportunity for Baltimore residents that teaches the importance of oysters for Bay health, provides on-the-spot data collection training to monitor oyster survival and growth and test water quality, and offers no-cost boat rides on the Harbor to plant oysters at the Fort Carroll sanctuary.
- Portsmouth Public Schools’ “Portsmouth Public Schools Oyster Project” – Students from Portsmouth will experience the impact that oysters have on the environment by raising oysters, participating in an oyster float experiment, collecting and analyzing data, exploring oyster habits, and building oyster reefs. Through scientific Public Service Announcements, students will educate the public on oysters’ value.
- Black In Marine Science’s “Reviving the Eastern Oyster: A Journey of Restoration and Resilience” – This communication tool will amplify education about oysters and aquaculture through scientific web-based content. Called BIMS TV, it aims to inspire the next generation of scientists while addressing misconceptions about marine science.
- Oyster Seed Holdings’ “How's it growing: Oyster Farm Tours from The Hatchery” – This program aims to expand the rare opportunities for the public to visit a working oyster hatchery. Oyster Seed Holdings hosts tours of its hatchery, and has acquired a food truck focused on oyster offerings. TOSH will now bring the public one step closer to oysters by offering boat tours of nearby oyster farms. The combination of hatchery tours, oyster food truck, and farm tours will create an advocacy complex.
This is the third year COA has provided funding for oyster-related grants. In 2023, COA and the Bay Trust distributed over $115,000 in oyster innovation grants to 13 different organizations.
Oyster population levels in the Bay have dropped to about 1 percent of historic levels due to pollution, diseases, and overharvesting. Ongoing restoration efforts, as well as new technology and a growing oyster aquaculture industry can bring back the species from the brink of collapse and increase oysters’ natural ability to provide habitat and filter water across the Bay watershed.