Passport to Nature

Barging into the Bay — with Oysters

By Tom McCann

Oysters in the Chesapeake Bay were once so abundant that explorer John Smith referred to them as navigational hazards. Now, with oyster populations in the bay only 1 percent of their historic abundance, Maryland has taken bold action to revive the iconic and ecologically important species.

“Oysters are a key piece of what makes our Chesapeake Bay so special,” said Mark Bryer, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Chesapeake Bay Program. “Maryland has implemented one of the most progressive plans for restoring native oysters in the world by establishing zones in the Chesapeake Bay for aquaculture, zones for sanctuaries and for the wild caught fishery. By balancing the needs of the local economy and the environment, we are able to restore the native species and all their benefits while supporting bay watermen.”

On July 26, 2011, I joined Mark and staff from the Oyster Recovery Partnership at Harris Creek on Tilghman Island, Maryland. Here on one of the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay, we set off with a barge-load of 10 million baby oysters for planting in a state-designated sanctuary.

View the slideshow to follow along with us and to trace the oysters’ journey, too. 

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