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A Delicious Partnership to Build Oyster Reefs

"We've lost more than 85% of our wild oyster reefs in Rhode Island and around the world".  Steven Brown, Coastal Ecologist

This summer, The Nature Conservancy partnered with the Newport Restaurant Group and the Matunuck Oyster Bar to collect oyster and clam shells to build oyster reefs in Rhode Island waters. These restaurants including 22 Bowen’s, Boat House, Castle Hill Inn, Hemenway’s, The Mooring, Smoke House, Trio, and Waterman Grille provide fine dining and fresh local seafood throughout Rhode Island. To-date, the partnership has collected more than 25 tons of half-shells, which otherwise would have ended up in landfills. These shells will be deployed in Rhode Island’s coastal salt ponds as constructed reefs, where they will serve as homes to new wild oysters and a wide range of fish and other marine life.

“Oyster reefs used to be abundant along the southern New England coast, where they provided more than just great habitat for new oysters and fish. They helped to buffer storm waves, filtered the water, and contributed to diverse and productive estuaries and coastal ponds,” explained David Steven Brown, Coastal Restoration Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island.

“Today, these reefs are functionally extinct,” Brown continues, “We’ve lost more than 85% of our wild oyster reefs in Rhode Island and around the world in recent decades due to overharvesting, removal of shell, pollution, sedimentation, and other factors.”
Thanks to this partnership, thousands of restaurant patrons are now learning about the Conservancy’s habitat restoration efforts, and the importance of oyster reefs to the health of our coastal ecosystems.

Working with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Coastal Resources Management Council, and with the help of our federal environmental agencies, The Nature Conservancy completed Rhode Island’s first constructed reefs in Ninigret Pond in 2012, and is now expanding these with a vision of larger-scale efforts in the near future.

Volunteers play a critical role too. “We depend on the support of volunteers, students, summer interns, and all the help we can get to make this successful,” said John Torgan, Director of Ocean and Coastal Conservation for The Conservancy in Rhode Island. “When people get involved and get wet and dirty, they really understand why this work is so important and valuable to the future of our coast”.

If you are interested in joining the effort for oyster reef-building and other coastal restoration projects with The Nature Conservancy of Rhode Island please contact: Jeanne Parente, Science Program Coordinator at 401-331-7110, ext. 16, or email:, or visit: Volunteer.


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