NY/NJ Baykeeper Discovers Naturally Reproducing Oysters on their Restoration Reef in Raritan Bay

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This exciting discovery gives NY/NJ Baykeeper reason to believe the return of the oyster in New Jersey is possible

The Importance of the Oyster

Often associated with luxurious meals and jewelry, the oyster is more than just a slurpable bivalve. In fact, oysters are quite important to the marine environments they inhabit. Noted as keystone species and ecosystem engineers, they positively impact their surrounding ecosystems.

Like corals, oysters build reefs that provide habitat for commercially and recreationally important species, such as striped bass and flounder. By providing habitat, an oyster reef increases the species richness and biodiversity of the region. As filter feeders they act as natural water filters and improve water quality, removing suspended sediments, nutrients, pollutants and/or algae from the water column. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day! Obviously improving water clarity is a positive change for humans, but this can also help to support the growth of other marine ecosystems like seagrasses that rely on light from the sun. In addition, oyster reefs and living shorelines incorporating oysters provide shoreline protection by breaking up heavy wave action. In sum, it’s safe to say that oysters are more than just tasty.

farmed oyster

The NY-NJ Harbor Estuary was once home to millions of acres of oyster beds. However, due to rampant development, overharvesting, and pollution, the metro-area oyster is now functionally extinct. The NY/NJ Baykeeper has been working hard to restore the oyster population for the benefits they provide the surrounding communities.

NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster Restoration Program’s Exciting New Finding

NY/NJ Baykeeper and partners installed a first of its kind urban living shoreline last year at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Monmouth County, NJ. The 0.9-acre living shoreline consists of an artificial reef using live oysters and concrete structures, known as oyster castles, which provide the necessary hard surface that oysters attach and grow on.

tank of farmed oysters
NY/NJ Baykeeper Oyster tanks

“After Hurricane Sandy, it became critical to address shoreline erosion and improve coastal resiliency. The project will provide important data to determine how a living shoreline can fortify the nearby shoreline, improve water quality, and create aquatic habitat in our urban watershed and, hopefully, replicate this technique elsewhere in the estuary,” said Debbie Mans, Executive Director and Baykeeper, NY/NJ Baykeeper.

This month scientists discovered the natural growth of baby oysters, biologically known as spat, while monitoring the oyster restoration site at Naval Weapons Station Earle.

farmed oyster
Spat found on Oysters at Naval Weapon Station Earle

“From a biological perspective, this initial discovery of spat is fantastic news, signifying the health of our oyster reef and Raritan Bay. With our continued urban shoreline habitat restoration efforts, we expect to see additional recruitment and reproduction,” said Meredith Comi, Restoration Program Director, NY/NJ Baykeeper.

These findings are the major step towards a self-sustaining reef, as this is the first time natural recruitment has been observed at the site. Finding natural recruitment means that the adult oysters on the reef are spawning and the larvae is settling back on the reef.

Why NY/NJ Baykeeper Grows Oysters at Gunpoint on a Naval Base

In 2010, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) banned shellfish research, restoration, and education projects in “contaminated” waters; waters classified as “Restricted” or “Prohibited” for shellfish harvest. This essentially deems 99% of the NY-NJ Harbor off-limits for shellfish restoration. Due to this policy we were forced to remove our projects in Keyport Harbor and the Navesink River along Red Bank.

baykeeper boat
Nevertheless our bivalve research would persist. Today we are working with NJDEP to improve Shellfish Rules that will strengthen our coasts. In 2010, we formed a unique partnership with Naval Weapons Station Earle (NWSE) to execute oyster restoration work. NWSE is under 24/7 security, eliminating poaching risks. This has allowed us to continue our research on this bivalve and get to the breakthrough we have discerned this month.

Looking to the Future:

NY/NJ Baykeeper has recently been awarded a Water Quality Restoration Grant through NJDEP and a grant from The New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Program to expand our living shoreline project. The Nature Conservancy is also a funder. NY/NJ Baykeeper has received permits from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and the US Army Corps of Engineers to further and conduct this research.

volunteers at the new jersey shore
Volunteers at our Soundview Park Oyster Reef

To learn more about the NY/NJ Baykeeper, visit http://nynjbaykeeper.org/ or check us out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @NYNJBaykeeper.

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Samantha Kreisler headshotMy name is Samantha Kreisler. Samantha is a graduate of the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. She was born and raised in New York City and now lives in New Jersey. Samantha currently works for the NY/NJ Baykeeper running community outreach. She loves going to the beach with her dog, scuba diving, and all things ocean.

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