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Harris Creek Restoration

Partners, including The Nature Conservancy, have already rebuilt oyster reef substrate on 110 underwater acres with an aim of restoring billions of oysters to this Chesapeake Bay tributary.

By: Tom McCann

Oysters are an iconic species in the Chesapeake Bay. They filter pollutants from the water while providing important nurseries and feeding grounds to rockfish, crabs, and other marine life. For generations oysters have also played an important role in the bay economy as a food that locals and tourists love.

In fact, it’s possible they have been loved to death – by overharvest, pollution and disease which have decimated populations and left remaining oysters unable to fill their ecological and economic roles.

Fortunately, recent and dramatic changes in the public policy arena, coupled with emerging scientific understanding and the installation of large-scale oyster sanctuaries, are providing a clear path forward for restoring this keystone species. These strides are further fueled by an aggressive and concerted effort between The Nature Conservancy, the Oyster Recovery Partnership, state, federal and other partners focused on restoring oyster reefs in twenty bay tributaries by 2025.

The first of these targeted tributaries is Harris Creek. Located on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Harris Creek represents the largest oyster restoration effort ever conducted in the Chesapeake Bay or along the East Coast. Major activities taking place at Harris Creek include rebuilding more than 370 underwater acres with new reef substrate that will host billions of baby oysters ready to call the creek home. To date, the partners have rebuilt and are monitoring 110 acres with plans to tackle more.

While ground-breaking in its own right, the Harris Creek project also provides a road map for large-scale oyster restoration efforts in other Chesapeake Bay tributaries including the Little Choptank and Nanticoke rivers.

“It’s time for oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay at a meaningful scale,” said Mark Bryer Chesapeake Bay program director for The Nature Conservancy. “We have the right polices in place, the scientific understanding and the partners. With funding we can implement the most ambitious effort ever to restore oysters to the Chesapeake Bay.”

Related Stories

Oyster Restoration at Harris Creek Showing Real Promise (Bay Journal)

Hidden under the surface of Maryland’s Harris Creek is what looks like — at least for now — one of the Bay’s greatest successes. It is, unfortunately, one that hardly anyone can see. Work completed through the end of last year restored 188.6 acres of oyster reef habitat on the bottom of the Choptank River tributary, most of it in places more than 6 feet deep.

Governor O’Malley Announces Innovative Oyster Restoration Partnership with CSX (press release)

Governor Martin O’Malley was joined by more than 100 partners and stakeholders at the Port of Baltimore this morning for a first-hand look at approximately 2,750 tons of fossilized oyster shell en route to Harris Creek in the Chesapeake Bay.

Harris Creek Oyster Project Offers Hope (Chesapeake Bay Journal)

Harris Creek, a tributary of Maryland's Choptank River, is the site of the largest ever oyster restoration effort in the Chesapeake — or, for that matter, anywhere along the East Coast. Over the next three to five years, state and federal agencies expect to spend up to $31 million converting hundreds of acres of river bottom into vibrant oyster bars by spreading shell, rebuilding reefs and planting hatchery-reared spat.

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