"Oyster Gardeners" Rebuild a Once Thriving Population in the Chesapeake Bay

oyster beds

Photo: Sam Beebe / Ecotrust

Scientists say that the Chesapeake Bay's oyster population has dramatically declined to 5 percent of what it was when European settlers first inhabited the area, according to an article in Reuters. Unsustainable fishing practices, diseases like MSX and Dermo, loss of habitat, and pollution have all led to a plummeting population. But Chesapeake Bay "oyster gardeners" are working against the grain to rebuild this crucial species.Oyster gardeners, motivated by a love of oysters and the Chesapeake Bay, are working to revive a species that has been on a fast decline for years, growing ever more dramatic in recent decades.

"If you look at the time of first contact, when the original oyster population had been in place for hundreds of thousands of years, they were able to filter the entire Chesapeake Bay, which is a huge volume of water, in about three or four days," Tanner Council, a coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which runs an oyster gardening program in Virginia said to Reuters.

Oyster Gardening
According to Reuters, "volunteer gardeners," an estimated 300 in all, plant baby oysters in the late summer and fall.

Oyster gardeners set up oyster cages made from mesh, which hang from docks. They allow oysters to grow until they are big enough to be transported to a sanctuary. Each year gardeners start a new batch in the hopes of growing the population and providing a fresh, healthy crop each year.

Oyster Importance
Oysters are incredibly important to our ecosystem because they filter the water, removing suspended sediment as well as contaminants and pesticides. They serve to keep water clear while providing a food source for anemones, sea nettles, and filter feeders. Oysters are an also a culturally and economically significant part of the Chesapeake Bay.

Settlers commented on having to navigate the massive oysters reefs when they first settled in the area. The Chesapeake Bay was amongst the largest oyster populations in the nation, and it's this picture of what the Bay once was that motivates oyster gardeners to keep up the fight to rebuild this once thriving population.

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