A young boy squints as he uses a pair of green plastic calipers to measure an oyster shell.
Measuring oysters John Bloom measures the oyster spat found on the shells in his grandparent’s oyster cage in Dover, New Hampshire. July 2017. The Bloom family, including grandkids John and Macaulay, who stay with them for the summer, volunteer to foster oyster spat and collect data as a weekly activity they can do together. This allows them to engage with citizen science and also help the Nature Conservancy’s community program in their efforts for oyster reef restoration in Great Bay, New Hampshire. © © Jennifer Emerling

Stories in New Hampshire

Oyster Conservationist Volunteer Program

Play an active role in restoring the health of Great Bay!

Want to Volunteer for Oysters?

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you'd like to participate!

Sign Up

Why Should We Care About Oysters?

These simple bottom-living, reef-building and filter-feeding bivalves 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 the Great Bay estuary, New Hampshire's oysters were once common enough to serve a critical role in filtering the bay’s water every couple days, removing plankton and excess nutrients from the water. Today, there are not enough oysters in the estuary to effectively provide this vital service, and the decline in filtering oysters has resulted in diminished ecological benefits for water quality and clarity, nitrogen control and fish production.

Closeup of a pile of empty oyster shells.
Recycled Oyster Shells Local restaurants participating the the Shell Recycling Program donate discarded oyster shells. They are washed, dried, cured, and placed on restored reefs in Great Bay. © Jennifer Emerling

A single acre of healthy oyster reef can process up to a ton of harmful nitrogen each year!  Today just over 100 acres exist, including nearly 30 acres restored since 2009 through efforts led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and University of New Hampshire (UNH).  To help bring back a sustainable natural filtration system to the Great Bay and Piscataqua estuaries, we have added 4 million oysters with the help of the local community through the Oyster Conservationist (OC) Program.

Together with UNH, we are leading efforts to rebuild historic oyster reefs, but we need your help. Local residents like you have been actively participating in the OC Program since 2006 and have raised nearly 300,000 oysters off their docks, moorings and boats for restoration.

A woman carrying two cages of oyster shells up a ramp by water.
Amanda.Moeser Amanda Moeser gathers oyster cages and inspects them for spat. © Jennifer Emerling © 2017

Who Are Oyster Conservationists and What Do They Do?

Oyster Conservationists:

  • Are local residents of New Hampshire with water access (dock, mooring, boat or other means of water access);
  • Are committed to helping improve the health of Great Bay and Piscataqua Estuary;
  • Participate by raising a cage of oysters off their docks, moorings, boats or by other means of access to water for 10 weeks (mid July - mid September);
  • Check on their oysters once (briefly) per week for predators and fouling;
  • Collect data on oyster size (to track growth at site) twice during summer—it takes less than an hour!
  • Say goodbye to their oysters in mid-September as they are planted at restoration reef sites to they help filter the bay’s water;
  • Communicate with Program Coordinator on any questions during their experience or help with checking on oysters while away on travel;
  • (Optional) Attend the annual Oyster Conservationist Appreciation Event, meet other oyster parents, learn program results and celebrate another year of success!

You May Ask, "What Are the Benefits of Serving as an Oyster Conservationist?"

During this program you will:

  • Directly engage in oyster restoration efforts;
  • Contribute to making a difference in your local estuary;
  • Meet other like-minded people in our growing oyster community;
  • Get motivated to be outside in nature/your backyard/water access;
  • Experience a hands-on learning opportunity about the magnificent oyster!
  • Enjoy a family-friendly activity.

Our Report is Here!

2021 OC Season Report

Read It

YES! I Want to Volunteer! What Happens Next?

Thank you to all our past volunteers! Qe are already thinking ahead to the 2023 season! Details are being ironed out, but the plan tentatively looks like this:

Now-June: Enrollment for the 2023 season! Sign-up today to host a cage or join us for our spat counting events.

Early June: We will contact and confirm our list of new and returning Oyster Conservationists participating this season (10 weeks).

Mid-July Oyster Cage Delivery: Young oysters will be delivered to you in a cage (20”x13”x6”) and secured to your dock/mooring/etc. Our cage set-up includes a 4'-5’ rope and float to keep the oysters slightly elevated off bottom. Our Coastal Conservation Coordinator will provide a training session and answer any questions you have.

July-September: OC Program continues for 10 weeks (involves weekly monitoring of oyster cages for predators and 2 data collections on oyster growth).

Mid-September Oyster Cage Pickup: Our Coastal Conservation Coordinator will collect oyster cages and the oyster will be moved to Jackson Estuarine Lab at UNH until ready for planting at the restoration site of the Piscataqua River.


If you'd like to learn more about the program, contact Kim Arlen, our Habitat Restoration Coordinator . Please don't hesitate to contact us with any questions you may have. 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!