BALTIMORE - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and partners resumed oyster restoration in Harris Creek, Jan. 13, 2015. This effort is part of the Maryland and Virginia statewide oyster restoration program, as laid out by the Corps’ Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan that identifies the most suitable tributaries throughout the Chesapeake Bay for large-scale oyster restoration based on physical and biological conditions.
Through the interagency partnership, the State of Maryland has planted more than a billion oysters in the Harris Creek Sanctuary since 2011. Since restoration efforts started, areas with less than one oyster per square meter now have upward of 25 oysters per square meter. The site now contains oyster beds that continue to grow and reproduce. Once fully restored, the Harris Creek sanctuary will work to improve water quality and enhance fish habitat.
New construction in Harris Creek consists of placing 57 acres of reef in water 6 to 9 feet deep (mean lower low water, MLLW). Similar work in the Tred Avon River is also scheduled to begin this winter, and efforts may occur simultaneously. In the Tred Avon, 24 acres of reef will be placed in water 9 to 20 feet deep (MLLW).
Work includes constructing 1-foot reefs using rock and mixed-shell materials. Constructed reefs will be made of: 1) rock only, (3 to 6 inches in size); 2) combination of rock and mixed shell; or 3) mixed shell only (2 to 3 inches in diameter). The shell comes from processing plants in the mid-Atlantic region and is permitted to be imported and placed in the river. The rock is quarried in Havre de Grace, Md.
“Oyster restoration is important because oysters provide a number of environmental benefits, including reef habitat that is significant to the Bay ecosystem for animals like blue crabs and fish,” said Angie Sowers, Corps of Engineers biologist. “Additionally, oysters are filter feeders that improve water quality ─ a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in 24 hours.”
Oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay have declined considerably in the last century, largely due to parasitic diseases, overharvesting, declining water quality, and loss of habitat. Less than one percent remains of historic oyster populations.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is the non-federal sponsor for Corps’ oyster restoration activities in Maryland. Additional project partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP). NOAA maps available restorable water bottom using sonar in conjunction with various ground‐truthing methods and funds the production and planting of seed oysters. The Corps constructs reef structure where none currently exists. ORP plants oyster spat (baby oysters) grown at the University of Maryland Horn Point Hatchery on restoration sites.
Surveys are completed prior to site design to ensure that new sites are not placed on currently thriving reefs and that new sites will be constructed on hard-surface bottoms.
Restoration only takes place in pre-existing sanctuaries, as established by DNR. Sanctuaries are areas that are closed to harvest; however, oysters within sanctuaries are expected to increase the abundance of adult oysters whose larvae are expected to settle not only within the sanctuary, but also on public shellfish fishery areas in the vicinity of the sanctuaries.
Construction is anticipated to end spring 2015. The reefs will be monitored to assess the restoration progress.
The construction contract for work in Harris Creek and the Tred Avon River was awarded to ARGO Systems LLC, July 2014. ARGO Systems LLC is a Service- Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business.
The Corps appreciates the public input received through both the informal comment period, which closed Oct. 15, 2014, and the public open house held Nov. 7, 2013, in Oxford, Maryland. Where applicable, this input has been incorporated into oyster reef construction plans, and will also assist in developing a supplemental environmental assessment for proposed future oyster restoration work in water 6 to 9 feet deep (MLLW) in the Tred Avon River.
There are two important documents that guide how oyster restoration actions are conducted in the Maryland portion of the Bay. The USACE Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan (2012) (http://bit.ly/OysterMasterPlan) guides those projects that are funded for USACE construction. The State’s restoration actions are conducted in accordance with Maryland’s 10-Point Oyster Restoration Plan (DNR 2010) found at http://tinyurl.com/my22df3. Federal actions are supported by National Environmental Policy Act documents that have been completed to date.
For more information, including plans and environmental assessments for the program and construction site maps, visit http://bit.ly/NABoysters.
More media contacts:
Kim Couranz (NOAA), 410-267-5673 or Kim.Couranz@noaa.gov
Kara Muzia (ORP), 410-990-4970 or KMuzia@oysterrecovery.org