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New Hampshire

Oyster Conservationist Volunteer Program

Story Highlights
  • Oyster Conservationist Volunteers Reach Maximum Program Size for 2014!
  • The latest Oyster Conservationist Report is here!
  • Decline of Water Quality in Great Bay Estuary = Need for Oyster Restoration!
  • Oysters in the News - Recent Press Coverage
  • About the New Hampshire Oyster Conservationist Program.
  • What is the role of an Oyster Conservationist?
  • How to volunteer.

Oyster Conservationist Volunteers Reach Maximum Program Size in 2014. Sign up for 2015!

The 2014 program was phenomenal with 70 total sites. This includes 25 new sites (including The Gundalow Company dock!) and 45 returning sites. Our largest program ever! AND…we have expanded into Maine! Our three Maine sites include locations in Eliot, Kittery Point and the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island (Kittery, ME).

We are now accepting new participants for 2015, so sign up now and get ahead of next year’s volunteer crowd.

In 2014, we restored 4.5 acres of oyster reef in Western Great Bay (Greenland, NH). The 2014 program began the week of July 14th-18th and ran for 10 weeks, ending the week of September 15th-19th. Details on delivery, data collection and more from 2014 are below.  Please contact Marine Restoration Coordinator, Kara Russell via email or at (603) 659-2678, extension 15.


The latest Oyster Conservationist report (2014) is here! Read the full report today.

Decline of Water Quality in Great Bay Estuary = Need for Oyster Restoration!

These simple bottom-living, reef-building and filter-feeding invertebrates are in fact a very important species! Oysters have disappeared from estuaries along the Atlantic Coastline mainly due to pollution, disease and over-harvest. Here in Great Bay Estuary, NH oysters were once common enough to serve a critical role in filtering the bay’s water every couple days by removing plankton and excess nutrients from the water and essentially “cleaning” the bay. Today, there are not enough oysters in the estuary to provide that vital service.  So, as more and more nutrients enter the bay from wastewater, septic systems and run-off, the system lacks its natural ability to clean itself.   A single acre of healthy oyster reef can process up to a ton of harmful nitrogen each year!  That is where TNC’s oyster restoration and conservation program comes in.  We work with the University of New Hampshire to rebuild oyster populations throughout the estuary and you can help!

Oysters in the News

The NH Oyster Restoration Program has recently been featured in local and regional newspapers.  Check out coverage in our Oysters in the News section.

New Hampshire Oyster Conservationist Program Background:

The NH Oyster Conservationist (OC) Program was initiated by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) in 2006, which first established a community of volunteers interested in restoring oysters in Great Bay Estuary. The OC Program aims to educate citizens on the importance of oysters in Great Bay Estuary and to work with community volunteers to grow and provide young oysters for local restoration. The OC Program continues into 2012 as a collaborative led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), UNH, NH Fish and Game, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Our program has reached its seventh season and we have learned a great deal about oyster growth and survival in certain areas of the bay, while providing tens of thousands of healthy young oysters to restoration efforts.

The OC Program continues to expand each year with its increasing number of interested participants and level of success. We owe the success of our program to our volunteers whose efforts have been an integral part of the restoration process. Each juvenile oyster that volunteers raise into a healthy adult gives local oyster populations better odds of survival and contribute to the filtration and “cleaning” of our bay’s water.

Check out details on this year's Oyster Conservationist Program and other volunteer opportunities.

What is the role of an Oyster Conservationist?

Oyster Conservationists are local volunteers willing to help improve the condition of our bay by raising young oysters (spat) in the Great Bay system during the summer and early fall. Last year, we had over 35 OC volunteers in the program, our most successful year yet.  And we want more.  Oyster Conservationists receive one-on-one training (~2 hours) on how to care for juvenile oysters, and learn the life history, ecology, and the significance of oysters in the bay. After initial training, Oyster Conservationists participate in a simple 10-week process of raising oyster spat with less than one hour per week of maintenance. Oysters are happy feeders in Great Bay Estuary and only need a little help to keep the small cages clean as they float off your dock.  OC volunteers also do biweekly data collection, predator identification and communicating with the OC Coordinator so we can analyze growth results. All training, oyster spat, supplies and detailed information needed for the project are provided to volunteers by TNC and UNH.

The 2014 Oyster Conservationist Program plan and schedule is as follows:

Early June: Contact and confirm list of new and returning Oyster Conservationists participating this season (for ten weeks).
Week of July 14 - Oyster Cage Delivery: Young oysters will be delivered to you in cages and hung off your dock or mooring. Our cage set-up this year is planned to be exactly like last year's. Kara will provide a training session and answer any questions you have.
July-September: OC Program continues for 10 weeks (involving biweekly data collection and weekly monitoring of oyster cages).
Week of September 15 - Oyster Cage Pickup: Kara will collect oyster cages and the oyster will be moved to Jackson Estuarine Lab at UNH until ready for planting at the restoration site at the mouth of the Squamscott River.

We value our volunteers and how they continually make a difference each year! The more oysters we can raise into healthy survivors, the closer we will be to “cleaning” Great Bay Estuary at a faster rate!

Do you have a dock, mooring or access to water and interest in helping with oyster restoration next season?

Please contact our Marine Restoration Coordinator, Kara Russell, via email or by phone at (603) 659-2678 ext. 15, if you are interested in volunteering as an OC.  Also, if you know anyone with a dock, mooring or access to water who might be interested in our OC Program, please do not hesitate to contact Kara.

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