On a partly cloudy Thursday afternoon on the choppy waters of the Chesapeake Bay members of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association of Maryland, and the Chesapeake Beach Oyster Cultivation Society gathered to take another step toward preserving the declining oyster population.

The July 29 voyage to the Herring Bay Oyster Sanctuary, an artificial reef initiative site, was made with the purpose of deploying nearly 80 oyster reef balls meant to reestablish the declining oyster population in the Bay. 

Oysters are a vital part of the oceanic ecosystem for their ability to filter and clean water and attract more oceanic wildlife, which will ultimately boost recreational fishing in the Chesapeake Bay.  

Each 300-pound concrete oyster reef ball lowered into the bay is equipped with several holes that provide a safe habitat for fish, crabs, and other aquatic life to hide in, according to a press release from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. 

“Reef balls provide hard substrate for the settlement and growth of native oysters, which is largely lacking due to the loss of oyster reefs,” Allison Colden, Chesapeake Bay Foundation Maryland’s senior fisheries scientist said.  

Over the last several decades the population of oysters has experienced a sharp decline after years of overfishing, pollution, and disease, the press release said. 

Colden affirms that the Chesapeake Bay has one of the lowest oyster populations in the United States. 

A study published in 2011 by the Marine Ecology Progress Series found that oysters had declined by 70 percent since 1980 with less than 1 percent of its initial population remaining — a historic low. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which works closely with the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, has also been instrumental in the effort to increase the oyster presence in the Bay. The Chesapeake Oyster Alliance is dedicated to adding 10 billion oysters in the Chesapeake Bay by 2025. 

“Whether it’s large-scale tributary restoration or targeted projects like this one, we will continue to support work to bring back oysters and reef habitats to improve the Bay’s ecosystem,” Tanner Council, the manager of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance said. 

Through the implementation of several methods to restore the oyster population in the Chesapeake, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation has managed to plant up to a million oysters per year, Colden said. With the help of several of the foundation’s volunteers and interns, the Department of Natural Resources’ Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, and the town of Chesapeake Beach, the implantation of the oyster reef balls wouldn’t have been possible. 

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