By Maya Pottiger
Despite 2018 being one of Maryland’s wettest years on record, the oysters planted in last year’s Operation Build A Reef campaign are thriving.
The Severn River Association conducted a dive in late April to monitor the oysters, and the results were encouraging.
“This proved that the oysters can survive even dire conditions down there,” said Tom Guay, program officer at the Severn River Association. “It’s assurance to everybody to know that, for our oyster growers, the efforts that they’re doing are paying off.”
The oysters were planted at three reefs in the Severn. During the dive, live oysters were found at every site.
“We were relieved to find that the spat on the surveyed sites not only survived but were found in high densities,” said a statement from the Oyster Recovery Partnership. “The patent tong survey also revealed the presence of large, older oysters from plantings conducted in 2010 and 2013. This tells us that the water is suitable for oysters to grow into adulthood, which is also when they have the largest filtering capacity.”
Because it takes an oyster three years to mature, there aren’t yet any direct impacts to the health of the Chesapeake Bay from last summer’s planting. However, there are signs that the reefs are helping the quality of the bay.
“When [we brought] up these samples of oysters, they’re like mini reefs. You can see in there this proliferation of all kinds of creatures in there,” Guay said. “What we have now is the physical evidence to see that there’s life underwater, and they’re beginning to form ecosystems around the oyster reef. That’s the exciting part.”
With reassurance that oysters are capable of thriving in the Severn River, the SRA and ORP are teaming up again for a second Operation Build A Reef. This year, the project is relying entirely on grassroots efforts.
“What we learned last year is that there is quite an appetite among people who live here in the watershed to support their own river,” said Paul Schurick, the director of partnerships at ORP. “We set an ambitious goal to do this all with grassroots, private fundraising.”
This year, the goal is to raise $50,000 to plant 10 million oysters in the Severn. Each bushel of spat-on-shell costs $100 and contains thousands of baby oysters.
“This is an opportunity and a model that we would be looking at other river groups to do similar projects around the state,” said Stephan Abel, executive director of ORP. “If the local community wants to get active and have a measurable impact in their streams and rivers, why not do it elsewhere around the bay?”
Watermark Tours is donating a boat to invite the community to watch the oyster planting, which will take place in mid-August. To learn more about Operation Build A Reef or to donate to the campaign, visit www.buildareef.org.