Looming Flooding and Environmental Disaster Call Governor Christie TODAY at 609-292-6000 and Tell H Read more →
Oysters are vital to the ecological integrity of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary, which is why Baykeeper works on restoring oyster beds in NY and NJ.
Baykeeper utilizes a two-prong strategy to achieving oyster restoration. This includes utilizing Oyster gardening to provide a reproductive stock to the reef and jump-starting the reef structure using Remote setting where oysters are already attached to a substrate or rebar structure. This work resulted in the restoration of hundreds-of-thousands of oysters to the Estuary ecosystem – allowing this keystone species to begin playing its natural role in cleansing our waterways.
Remote setting is done in NJ at Baykeeper’s Aquaculture Facility in Highlands, NJ. It is when the hatchery raised oyster larvae attach, set, and grow on shell substrate. Microscopic oyster larvae are released into 450 gallon tanks of saltwater that also contain volunteer-made mesh bags full of clam shells. The larvae attach themselves to the shell and grow in this protected environment. Once the oysters have “set” on the shell, and grown for about two months, they are ready for release onto newly established oyster beds, or reefs, around the region. The Aquaculture Facility was built in partnership with Bahrs Landing Restaurant, Brookdale Community College Sandy Hook Field Station, and the NOAA Restoration Center.
Baykeeper once had two reef projects in New Jersey-one in the Navesink River in Red Bank and the second in Raritan Bay in Keyport. Unfortunately both projects were shut down due to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) decision to ban research, restoration, and education projects using oysters in “contaminated” waters; waters classified as “Restricted” or “Prohibited” for shellfish harvest. This essentially deems the vast majority of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary off-limits for oyster restoration.
NJDEP claims that if the population of a “commercial viable species”, such as the oyster, is increased in waters that are unsafe for shellfish harvest that people will illegally harvest the oysters. They believe the oysters would then enter the food chain and cause a human health risk. Baykeeper feels that the possibility of poaching would be eliminated by NJDEP doing a better job of patrolling closed waters with NJDEP Enforcement Officers. Additionally, Baykeeper has numerous institutional controls to secure the oysters and make poaching extremely difficult.
Oyster restoration—recognized as a very important coastal restoration technique—should not be restricted because of lack of enforcement. If you would like to see oyster restoration revived in New Jersey, sign our petition here! Or, please contact your state legislators and tell them so! www.njleg.state.nj.us/districts/municipalities.asp. You can also email Baykeeper with your opinion at firstname.lastname@example.org
Oyster Restoration Research at Naval Weapons Station Earle
After the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection banned research, restoration, and education projects using oysters in “contaminated” waters in July 2010, Baykeeper’s scientific work to test the viability of restoring oysters in the Raritan Bay was halted. With hope for restoring water quality in the Raritan Bay, Baykeeper approached the Navy about placing oyster nets at Naval Weapons Station Earle, which is under 24/7 security, and therefore eliminates any poaching risk. Commanding Officer Captain Harrison and Earle staff were excited with the idea and helped Baykeeper execute the project. While awaiting approval from NJ DEP to place the oysters at Earle, Baykeeper and its volunteers were growing baby oysters in tanks in the Aquaculture Facility provided by Moby’s restaurant in Highlands.
On October 6, 2011 NY/NJ Baykeeper placed oyster nets into the water at Naval Weapons Station Earle in order to conduct scientific research about the viability of oysters in that area of the Raritan Bay.
The baby oysters were counted and measured before they were placed in tiered oyster nets placed sub-tidally below the pier at Earle.
Phase 2 and Beyond
In June 2012, Baykeeper and the Rutgers Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability (CUES) oyster team pulled up the oyster nets that were placed at Naval Weapons Station (NWS) Earle in the fall of 2011. The team found that 90% of the oysters survived the winter. After this successful pilot study and positive meetings with NJ DEP staff, Baykeeper is ready to enter the next phase of our oyster restoration research at Earle. Currently, NJ DEP is reviewing our Waterfront Development Permit that would ultimately grant us a research area of 10.6 acres within the secure waters of NWS Earle. Baykeeper hopes to have a decision on the permit by the end of 2012.
The second phase of research will include the testing of three different oyster support structures to determine which structure produces the highest survival and growth rates. The chosen structure will be housed with spat on shell oysters and deployed off the pier to determine the potential for long‐term oyster survival and reproduction. The structures will be placed subtidally to ensure 2 – 3 ft. of water will remain above the oysters during the lowest portion of the tidal cycle. This positioning is beneficial for oyster survival and subtidal placement also reduces the possibility of facilitating illegal poaching activity. However based on the naval patrols of the working pier, poaching is a very highly unlikely occurrence at NWS Earle.
Baykeeper will initially test 3 support structures with the potential to withstand winter storm energies encountered in Raritan Bay waters: Reefblk™ triangular rebar structures, Reef Ball™ concrete structures, and heavy cargo pallets. SOS and Reef Balls will be set at the Aquaculture Facility in Highlands, NJ. The project will cover a ¼ acre and resemble the Keyport Harbor Research study that was removed by DEP’s orders in August 2010. Baykeeper hopes to implement this preliminary reef work in spring/summer 2013.
Based on the data collected from the research plots, one support structure will be chosen to house the NWS Earle oyster research population as the research plot expands further. These oysters will be installed between the two piers during summer 2015 and beyond, in 1 acre increments. Monitoring of both Phase 2 and subsequent installations will continue.
While Baykeeper’s Oyster Gardening program in NJ was shut down by NJDEP along with the two oyster reefs, the gardening program thrives in New York.
In 2009, Baykeeper and partners established the Oyster Restoration Research Partnership (ORRP) to study the viability of oyster restoration in NY Harbor. In 2010 the partnership implemented 6 pilot reefs in NY waters and is monitoring them and conducting research throughout 2011.
The Baykeeper volunteers in NY become surprisingly attached to them as they raise them each winter at bayside locations around the Estuary.School groups, scout troops, marinas and fishing clubs, families, and civic organizations care for small (3/4 inch) “seed” oysters for a year in floating cages. Each summer, volunteers join Baykeeper torelease their oysters (grown to about one and a half inches long) on oyster reefs around the NY Harbor.
The oyster gardening program isn’t just beneficial for oysters and local ecosystems, it also gets people involved in the urban waterfront and creates a personal relationship with estuarine ecology. The project helps people become advocates of the estuary, seeing it as a vital living resource and home to an entire ecosystem
On June 24, 2013, a new oyster reef was placed at Soundview Park in the Bronx. The NY/NJ Baykeeper, along with the Hudson River Foundation, NYC Parks, Bronx River Alliance, and other partners, placed 125 cubic yards of shell at the site in order to create the largest expanse of subtidal habitat in the lower Hudson River Estuary. A barge bought in the shell and deposited it in the intertidal region, around the existing rock outcroppings. The reef will be provide substrate for new oysters to attach to, and help to propagate a self-sustaining reef to improve water quality and increase habitat in the area. In addition, the reef will allow for community involvement and education in the area, and provide space for scientific experiments to add to our knowledge of oysters in the NY/NJ area. Throughout the summer, there will be monitoring and educational trips to the reef. In addition, 100,000 spat-on-shell produced by the New York Harbor School will be added to the reef in order to increase the population.