Volunteers plant 25,000 oysters to aid oyster restoration effort in Baltimore Harbor

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Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, holds an oyster shell that has been seeded with oyster spat, or baby oysters. The oysters will live in cages in the Baltimore Harbor for nine months until they are transported to an oyster reef at Fort Carroll, south of the Francis Scott Key Bridge. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

Volunteers with the Greater Baltimore Oyster Partnership on Sunday assembled cages to grow about 25,000 baby oysters in the Baltimore Harbor.

The program gives the young oysters, also called spat, “a huge head start on life,” said Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative at the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, one of the members of the Greater Baltimore Oyster Partnership.

In the wild, the oysters would have a survival rate of 2-3% in their first year. But in cages, their survival rate is 80-90%, Lindquist said.

After nine months, when those oysters reach about the size of a quarter, they will be transported to an oyster reef at Fort Carroll, located in the Patapsco River south of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

An adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day, and historically the Chesapeake Bay was home to enough oysters to filter all of the Bay’s water in about three days. Now, it can take up to a year to filter that much water, Lindquist.

Over the years, the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has been ravaged by pollution and overharvesting, which made oysters susceptible to diseases.

The silver lining is that the oysters that have survived are more resilient to those diseases, making them strong candidates to help create new oysters, Lindquist said.

“Baltimore Harbor has pollution problems, but it’s not a dead ecosystem. Far from it,” he said. “It’s full of life and if you put these oysters in, they thrive … When you recreate the ecosystem that used to be here, even in just a small way, life comes flocking back to it.”

Chesapeake Bay Foundation oyster restoration intern Grace Reising (left) helps volunteers Regina Harlig (middle) and Elizabeth Miller (right) bend metal into cages. Volunteers filled the cages with baby oysters and hung them in the Baltimore Harbor, where the oysters will grow over the next nine months until being transported to an oyster sanctuary at Fort Carroll. Photo by Marcus Dieterle.

The Greater Baltimore Oyster Partnership sought to plant 5 million oysters in the Baltimore Harbor by 2020, a milestone that they reached ahead of schedule in 2019, Lindquist said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, also involved with the partnership, set its own goal of planting 10 billion oysters across the entire Chesapeake Bay watershed by 2025. Since 2017, they have grown 2.67 billion oysters, said Doug Myers, senior scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

And as the oysters mature, they will also reproduce with one another to grow the population exponentially, Myers said.

Elizabeth Miller, who was among the volunteers lending a hand Sunday, said she considers herself an “environmentalist by nature” and loves to eat oysters, so she wanted to help make the Chesapeake Bay healthier for humans and animals alike.

“A healthy Bay helps every single person that lives in the Baltimore area,” she said. “It’s just an essential part of trying to help in any way you can.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story reported that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation had set a goal to plant 6 billion oysters. The foundation’s actual goal is to plant 10 billion oysters by 2025.

Marcus Dieterle


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