Thursday, November 16, 2017

Eight Fun Oyster Facts

We have been restoring oysters in Massachusetts for a decade; helping increase populations in Wellfleet, Wareham, and Boston as well as the recent addition Massachusetts' Northshore towns of Gloucester, Essex and Ipswich. In that time we have learned a great deal about oysters and enjoyed slurping down quite a few.  Here are eight interesting facts to ponder.
1. Oyster eating is ancient.  The oldest oyster middens (shell heaps) have been radiocarbon dated to 4,000 B.C., and oyster eating has thousands of years of history among Native Americans along both coasts.  These piles could once be found locally in Cambridge and on the Boston Harbor Islands as well as further North as Maine's Demariscotta River. In Westport, the middens were so large that in the 1800's carriageways were cut through the 40 foot high piles for tours to entertain tourists. (Those Native Americans may have been building up defenses against erosion and coastal storms!) It's also part of the historical record in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome, medieval France and England, and even among the Mayans.
Ancients enjoying oysters.

2. Yes, oysters can hear. As we highlighted in a recent Facebook post scientists subjected oysters to low-frequency sounds like those made by cargo ships, human-caused explosions and wind turbines. It caused oysters to clamp their shells shut. Higher-frequency sounds like those made by a speedboat didn't seem to bother them. If you have oysters in a tank, tapping on it can cause them to close their shells, so this is not a huge surprise.
3. Oyster shells are great for your garden. In Colonial times oyster shells were spread on fields to lower the soil acidity. As the shells break down, they release calcium into the soil, which can improve soil pH and lead to healthier plants. In some areas live oysters were used for this purpose. And the shell middens mentioned earlier were often mined for this purpose. If you use expensive bone meal for your bulbs, you may want to think about using oyster shell instead. We also recycle oyster shell working with Boston's SaveThatStuff- they are laid down in inter-tidal areas to give baby oysters a base for attachment.
4. Oysters are mentioned in two Shakespeare plays. "Why, then/the world's mine oyster/Which I with sword will open," is from "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and is the origin of the famous phrase. "As You Like It" includes the less well-known line, "Rich honesty dwells like a miser, sir, in a poor house, as your Pearl in your fouled Oyster."

5. Oysters clean the water. Every day, a single oyster can filters about 40 gallons of water. They do it by pulling water over their gills, which trap nutrients and algae — and the water leaves the oyster cleaner than it came in. We have been repeating this mantra for years as we advocated for their use in polluted areas of Boston Harbor such as Fort Point Channel, Chelsea Creek and the Mystic River. In this blog you can find time lapse videos of them cleaning tanks full of water. (This makes a great school science project or demonstration.)
The oyster pushes water over its gills where nutrients, silt and bacteria are trapped. 

6. Groups of oysters create habitat for other sea life. Oysters grow into reefs that contain nooks and crannies. Those nooks and crannies can shelter 200 other species including shrimp, eels, lobsters, crabs, pogeys and barnacles. These species further support the food chain and improve fishing.  
Oysters Clustering to form a reef.

7. Oyster beds protect against the effects of climate change. A reef made up of oysters not only cleans the water and creates habitat, it also can mitigate coastal flooding and erosion by absorbing 80 percent or more of wave energy, which is especially valuable during large storms. And, oysters are far more attractive than cement or steel bulkheads. (Did the native Americans in Westport know this?)
8. Oyster Restoration can be accomplished inexpensively.  For $30 all-in you can begin a program using a Fran Spat Pool. This ingenious technique can produce 20 million fertile spat in a season!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Maryland Hosting Dedicated Fishing Events on Oyster Restoration Sites

We have been impressed how fishing groups around the country have been embracing oyster restoration to improve their catch. By using oyster restoration to create habitat and support the food chain the number and size of fish rises significantly according to academic studies.  We have seen oyster restoration near fishing piers and in targeted areas in the Carolina's and Texas. 

To highlight the improvement and document it Sherwood, Maryland is organizing a tournament this fall on a restoration area. The Rod and Reef Slam will be on October 7 and has a variety of classes including youth and Kayak. 

Here is a bit more about the event. 


We're celebrating the beginning of a turn for the better in the Chesapeake’s fish and crab habitat. Oyster restoration is beginning to make a difference.
When an estuary loses almost all of its keystone oyster reefs like the Chesapeake has, the change causes fundamental damage.
What has the Bay lost? We know from archaeologists that colonists in St. Mary’s City found sheepshead in abundance in the lower Potomac in the 17th century. How about black sea bass? Tautogs? Puppy drum (red and black)? Spadefish? Filefish?
Some of those fish are turning up now in Virginia, mostly around the rocks on the tubes of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. Some of them are beginning to show up on new reef structures in Maryland, including the reef ball field at Cook’s Point in the mouth of the Choptank.
We want to celebrate this return, keep it growing, and give Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) some data on recreational fishing opportunities around these restoration projects. Join us for a tournament that focuses on three restoration reef areas: the MARI Tilghman Island Reef just outside Knapps Narrows, the Harris Creek reefs, and the Cook’s Point reef ball field in the mouth of the Choptank. Multiple partners have worked together to build these reefs, including the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, Coastal Conservation Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
This tournament will be a little different. You won’t win just for the biggest fish. Prizes will be awarded for how many species you catch, and then how long your fish are. We’re celebrating variety, and (we hope) the return of some of these great reef species that we’ve been missing. Come join us!


ENTRY FEE: $50 Includes tournament entry, after party food, giveaways, live entertainment and access to a cash bar. Register prior to September 15 to be guaranteed a free Rod and Reef Slam Tournament Shirt.
YOUTH ENTRY: Youth ages 16 and under may participate for free with a participating adult.
AFTER PARTY & AWARDS CEREMONY ONLY: $10 Includes food and entertainment
AFTER PARTY & AWARDS LOCATION: From 3:00p.m.–7:00 p.m. at Lowes Wharf Marina & Inn, 21651 Lowes Wharf Road, Sherwood, MD 21665. Shallow water anchorage at Lowes Wharf is available with water taxis to shuttle boaters to the after party.
FISHING BOUNDARIES: Harris Creek Oyster Sanctuary, Cook’s Point Oyster Sanctuary/ Artificial Reef, Tilghman Island Artificial Reef. Coordinates for the fishing boundaries are forthcoming in the Gallery section of this webpage below.
SPECIES: Any species may be caught. Catch, photo, and release all undersized fish. Refer to the restrictions set by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and abide by the law.
To register go to the link above.  And if you have questions, you can email a contact. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Oysters in New York Harbor Are Reproducing and Expanding

joe reynoldsAlthough the Eastern or American oyster (Crassostrea virginica), a native mollusk with two rough elongated whitish shells, has been declared by many people around New York Harbor to be “functionally extinct”, the bivalve just doesn’t want to give up. In this arm of the ocean, the will to live seems to be strong in the little sea creature.
The evidence for life is among the flotsam and jetsam along the edge of the estuary. Last October, baby oyster larvae, known as spat, were discovered living on a healthy Eastern oyster shell attached to a mushroom anchor in the Navesink River in New Jersey. Farther upstream, in 2013 a large living oyster reef in the Hudson River was removed near the Tappan Zee Bridge before construction began on a new bridge. A three-man crew spent a week removing almost 200,000 oysters near the bridge and sending them to New York City waters at a cost of nearly $100,000.
oysters 1
Perhaps the best sign of recovery came from the tidal waters near the Statue of Liberty in 2016. Oysters can now be found growing in Upper New York Bay. Around the Statue of Liberty are some of the plumpest and fastest growing in the whole of New York Harbor,” according to Peter Malinowski, founder and director of the Billion Oyster Project, a recovery program from the non-profit New York Harbor Foundation that hopes to restore oyster populations throughout the tidal waters of New York City.
Within this program, members have added nearly 50,000 adult oysters in Jamaica Bay, making it the largest single installation for breeding oysters in the city. The program also has over 19.5 million oysters growing in New York Harbor, with 1.05 acres of reef area restored. Albeit a far cry from the 220,000 acres of oyster beds that once existed when Europeans first arrived in 1609, but it’s an important start.
The work seems to be paying off. Remarkably, I’m finding more and more adult oyster shells washed ashore along Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay with juvenile oysters or spat attached to the surface. The other day while walking along the edge of Sandy Hook Bay in Port Monmouth I discovered a large oyster shell about seven inches long with five young oysters or spat fixed to the shell. One of a few notable finds this year.
Will more spat be found on large oyster shells, perhaps as long at 10 or 12 inches? It all depends on how well the ensuing spawning season goes.
Another breeding season begins now, as adult oysters get busy making the next generation. The Eastern oyster has separate sexes, but oysters will always spawn simultaneously, usually in an entire bed of oysters. Both males and females need to live near each other in shallow tidal waters, in depths between 8 to 25 feet, if spawning is to be successful.
oysters 2
Oysters spawn between late June to November, but peak spawning occurs between June and July when water temperatures rise into the 70s. When local estuarine water temperatures rise, an ancient spawning ritual begins.
Mature female oysters release millions of eggs; the males release an even greater number of sperm. In less than 24 hours, the eggs will become fertilized and develop into microscopic free-swimming larvae that look just like specks of black pepper in the water.
A single female Eastern oyster can produce from 75 to 150 million eggs in a single reproductive cycle, but only one in 1,000, less than one percent, will survive to reach the next life stage. It’s not just humans that have found the culinary delights of oysters. Most young oysters will become fish food.
Yet, for those fortunate tiny black specks that do continue, they will spend the next three weeks or so drifting on currents and tides feeding on phytoplankton or microscopic algae. They will develop a thin shell and a slimy foot to help find a location in which to settle down and stick itself in place. It’s a lot of work and stress for a newborn baby to endure, but the hard work will payoff in a good home.
Oyster larvae will eventually attach themselves to a hard bottom substrate, preferably an adult oyster shell where other spat can grow to form a reef, but almost any firm surface will attract a juvenile oyster, such as a brick, an aluminum can, a glass bottle, or even a used porcelain toilet bowl. Once a baby oyster has found a perfect spot, it will secrete a liquid cement-like substance that fixes or glues itself in place to spend the rest of its life in one place.
Most spat are usually males with some individuals transforming into females after the first or second spawning. Oysters may go back and forth between sexes several times during their lifetime. An oyster can live between 10 to 20 years, but most will only survive about four or five years.
It’s not easy being an oyster in New York Harbor. Virus and diseases, including QX oyster disease, are widespread due, in part, to continuing water pollution problems from raw sewage still entering the estuary from antiquated sewage systems. Oysters are more susceptible to disease when they are stressed by poor water quality. There are also plenty of hungry predators, including birds such as the American oystercatcher and gulls, and numerous aquatic dwellers such as oyster drills, sea anemones, sea stars, sea nettles, whelks, mudworms, and cownose rays.
Yet, despite the challenges, the need to bring back oysters to New York Harbor is imperative. When a large number of oysters join together, it's called an "oyster reef.” Oyster reefs are diverse ecosystems that were once found all over the estuary and provided important protection for coastlines from the damaging effects of wave action from storms and nor’easters, they also provided vital habitat and shelter for many marine organisms.

Science has shown that oysters reefs can be similar or just as productive as coral reefs. In one study in Beaufort, North Carolina more than 300 invertebrate species were identified to be living on local reefs. The nooks and crannies of the reef offer habitat to different species of worms, mollusks, fish, and mud crabs. The presence of these organisms attracts larger predators, which in turn attracts even larger predators, all the way up a food chain to humans. The existence of an oyster reef truly creates a dynamic environment.
An oyster reef can also provide refuge from predation for many species, including small clams, grass shrimp, crabs, and worms. More over, oyster reefs stabilize shorelines and help reduce erosion, an increasingly important asset in an ever-warming world.
What’s more, oysters act as a filter to naturally clean up an estuary. Oysters use their gills to absorb oxygen and strain food out of the water. One adult can strain plankton and organic matter at a rate of up to 50 gallons per day (or 1500 times its body volume). A healthy oyster reef contributes significantly to overall water clarity in the estuary. It’s no wonder there is an important project in New York State to bring back a billion oysters into New York Harbor.
Unfortunately in New Jersey, restoration efforts in Raritan Bay and Sandy Hook Bay and surrounding state tidal waters have been put on hold due to the lack of state funds. Let’s hope a new governor, which will be elected this November, will reestablish funds to help return oyster reefs to functioning ecosystems. This will help to improve water quality and benefit fish populations throughout the busy and bustling waters of New York Harbor for many species to enjoy.
To view more pictures, video, or stories of wildlife around Sandy Hook Bay, Raritan Bay, and Lower New York Bay, please visit my nature blog, NY Harbor Nature at

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What is an upweller?

Under the leadership of Jennifer Filiault and Steve Parks, the MOP team has begun construction of an upweller at the Maritime GloucesterMuseum to raise infant oyster spat to a 2 inch size so that they can be used for oyster propagation.

An upweller is a system of tanks that flow seawater over the oyster spat so that it receives a good flow of nutritious water for it to filter and feed on. The oysters filter out the plankton, digest it and use the nutrition to grow.  A typical upweller contains the oyster spat in containers with screen bottoms. The water is forced up through the screen bottoms around the oysters and out the top where it is returned to the ocean or estuary.

upweller phtoto
Diagram of an Upweller Oyster Nursery

The screen is changed over the course of a growing season as the oyster spat grows. Initially we are starting with the finest mesh screen we could get at Home Depot. It can even keep out No-see-ums! Over time our interns will be changing the screen to larger and larger mesh sizes.

image of upweller oyster nursery construction
Adding Screen to the Buckets

Image of Upweller oyster nursery construction
Bucket with Screen for Upweller Oyster Nursery

There are several types of upwellers and they are largely classified by their location. They can be in the water beneath a dock, near the water on a floating dock, or in our case, on structures. Ours will be located on a dock at Maritime Gloucester.

Upweller Oyster Nursery Photo

In mid-June we will be receiving 60,000 baby oysters or spat. They will be approximately 1-2 millimeters in size. They will be delivered via FedEx in a coffee can sized container. While they start off small, they will grow fast. By September they will be 2 inches long. It is amazing to see the growth!  

When we first started restoring oysters to Boston Harbor we experimented with some dime sized oysters. From August 9th to September 9th they grew from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter! It was an amazing transition that filled us with excitement seeing the oysters could grow so robustly.

As we move into fall the oysters will be 1.5-2 inches in length. They will begin storing glycogen for the winter when they go into hibernation mode. At seasons end, we will test the oysters to be sure they are safe, and then find them a new home.  

To learn more about bvuilding an upweller you can visit this PDF file..