The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) have announced a new partnership centered on oyster restoration.
The partnership includes relocating CBF’s Maryland Oyster Restoration Center to the SERC campus in Edgewater to produce spat-on-shell oysters and reef balls.
CBF and SERC will work collaboratively to expand research opportunities, train students, and promote Bay restoration through this new partnership.
SERC’s research into the challenges facing coastal areas worldwide, including climate change, invasive species, and pollution threats to ecosystems, will help inform CBF’s ongoing efforts to restore oysters and increase reef habitat in the Bay.
“This new partnership of SERC and CBF brings a strong blend of research and public engagement for restoring oysters in the Bay—a crucial step in rebuilding the co-benefits of healthy oyster reefs,” said SERC Director Tuck Hines. “SERC’s base in the Rhode River provides ready access to new restoration sites on the Western Shore, where we can engage more people as citizen scientists in regenerating biodiversity and ecosystems services for the Bay. Going forward, CBF’s spat on-shell production process and the R/V Patricia Campbell will allow SERC to apply rigorous experiments at a scale to test new ideas about the complex interactions of reef design. Our partnership provides a model of collaboration that can be scaled up and replicated throughout the Chesapeake and beyond.”
CBF has coordinated Bay oyster restoration efforts for over 20 years and has added more than 332 million spat, or juvenile oysters, to reefs throughout the Bay. Previously, CBF’s Maryland Oyster Restoration Center was located at Discovery Village in Shady Side.
“The partnership between SERC and CBF is an oyster restoration match made in heaven,” said CBF President Hilary Falk. “Locating CBF’s oyster restoration activities at SERC will usher in a new era of collaboration between our organizations that will expand oyster restoration efforts, advance cutting-edge oyster science, and much more.”
CBF and SERC plan to engage volunteers, school children, teachers, college students, and others to help and learn about oyster restoration efforts through hands-on activities. CBF will dock its specially designed oyster restoration vessel, the R/V Patricia Campbell, at the facility’s pier on the Rhode River.
On Monday, CBF and SERC leaders and staff celebrated the new partnership by planting more than 200,000 oysters on a reef near the SERC dock. CBF first built the nearby reef for SERC research activities in 2006.
Oyster restoration efforts in the Bay focus on bringing back the species after widespread loss. Oyster population levels have declined dramatically since the 1800s due to a combination of overharvesting, pollution, and disease—leading scientists to estimate there are less than 1 percent of preindustrial levels of oysters remaining in the Bay.
Increasing oyster populations would be a boon for the Bay ecosystem, which benefits from oysters’ natural ability to filter water and build a habitat. Fish, crabs, and other marine species often use the nooks in oyster reefs to hide from predators and scour the reefs for food.
In addition to adding oysters to the Bay, CBF’s advocacy efforts have helped permanently protect Maryland’s five large-scale oyster restoration tributaries and modernize regulations surrounding oyster aquaculture to promote new sustainable business opportunities. CBF also leads the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, a group of nonprofits, community organizations, and oyster growers working toward adding 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025.
“Collaboration between scientists, fishery managers, and restoration practitioners is key to reversing the historical decline of oysters,” said Allison Colden, CBF’s Maryland Senior Fisheries Scientist. “SERC’s research and scientific monitoring abilities will complement CBF’s capabilities to carry out large-scale oyster restoration throughout the Bay.”
Scientists at SERC are studying oyster reef ecosystems by examining fish and crab usage of restored reefs off Maryland’s Eastern Shore—the home of the world’s largest oyster restoration project—and comparing that usage to harvested and natural reefs elsewhere. Researchers use advanced sonar technology, baited traps, and other data sources to evaluate reef habitat use. SERC scientists also track oyster disease throughout the Chesapeake in the Coastal Disease Ecology Lab.
“We are excited to work with CBF to study oyster restoration and especially how the restored reef systems function to support the diversity of fish, crabs, and other species in the Chesapeake Bay,” said SERC Senior Scientist Matt Ogburn, who leads the Fisheries Conservation Lab. “SERC’s small reef will continue to serve as a test bed for our research methods and as a tool for our education programs.”