People often ask us how we know oysters will live at the mouth of the Charles when so much has changed in the ecosystem since Colonial times. Well, we don't know for sure. But we have done a fair amount of research to establish the extensive prevalence of oysters in the historic record. And the Charles River has changed a great deal. While the extensive fill of the Back Bay is widely known and talked about, there also was extensive fill on the Cambridge side as well.
This interesting map from the University of Texas Library Maps Room popped up on StumbleUpon. The Map shows the outline and contours of Colonial Boston and the Boston and the outline of 1880. The area around the mouth of the Charles where the oyster pilot is had seen modest changes. Our oysters are in the vicinity of the bridge that is furthest to the right. The bridges have moved and North End Beach has been filled in and now has a pool. This area also has a hockey rink, athletic fields and boccie courts. (There are two interesting asides here. One is that the famous molasses flood occurred in this spot in 1919 when a huge tank of the sticky liquid burst and drowned 21 people. And the famous Brinks Job Heist took place in a still standing parking garage on the corner of Prince and Commercial Street.)
Below is a 1922 map of the North End from the Bromley Atlas. This image came from Community Heritage Maps. You can still see the North End Beach marked clearly in green. At low tide you can still see a sandy spit of bottom off of the seawall in this location.
The other major change is the conversion of the Charles River basin with the construction of the lower Charles River Dam in 1978. The dam is managed such that water upstream of it is kept fresh although a plume of salt water on the bottom can sometimes creep far up river in during the summer months. How this affects the dynamics of the tidal flows is hard to say, (although it probably would make up an interesting engineering/consulting interview question.)
|Plaque from the Lower Charles River Dam. Today this dam is to the right of the bridge that is second from the right in the map above. The remnants of that bridge can be seen when walking across the locks at the dam.
So, we have the feeling that the topography and the tide levels have not changed dramatically. The water flows and salinity may have shifted somewhat, but exactly how is hard to say.
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Mass Oyster Project Hat in London's Underground
|MOP Volunteer Chris Yim in the tube.