Seacoast Volunteers Rally Around Oysters

From families to restaurants to classrooms, volunteers work to restore oysters.

Newmarket, NH | September 24, 2012

The Nature Conservancy today released the annual report of its Oyster Conservationist program, highlighting the efforts of community volunteers who are working to improve water quality, control nitrogen and provide critical habitat by restoring live, functioning oyster beds in the Great Bay estuary. 2012 stands out as the Oyster Conservationist’s largest program to date.  Fueled by over a thousand hours of volunteer service, the program has grown rapidly over the past seven years - attracting individuals, families and business in the estuary interested in helping to restore oysters to the system.

“We are very excited about the growth of this program,” said Ray Konisky, Director of Marine Science for The Nature Conservancy. “It has been great to see the seacoast community – from businesses to entire families - come together to support oyster restoration in the bay.  Volunteering to grow oysters is becoming the cool thing to do.”

The oyster population in the Great Bay estuary has been decimated following disease outbreaks in the 1990’s – with over 90% of historic adult populations lost by 2000.  As natural filters, oysters play an important role in cleaning the bay’s water by filtering excess nutrients and suspended solids from the water column.  One adult oyster filters 20 gallons of water per day – and one acre of oyster reef removes algae and controls as much as one ton of harmful nitrogen within the system each year.

Volunteers across the Great Bay help restore the oyster population by raising baby oysters – also known as spat.  Once grown, the volunteer raised spat are used to populate newly constructed oyster reefs throughout the estuary.  This year, a record 39 families raised over 11,000 spat for restoration activities.  For the first time, Oyster Conservationists raised juvenile oysters in all of the major tributaries of the estuary.

In July, volunteers received a cage containing oyster shells covered with tiny spat set by scientists at UNH.  The shells in the cages on which the baby oysters grow are donated by local restaurants and seafood markets, and collected by volunteers at the Coastal Conservation Association.  Participating restaurants include Surf, Roberts Maine Grill, Jumpin Jays, The Library, The Old Salt, The Dinnerhorn, Makris Lobster and Steak House, along with seafood markets like Philbrick’s Fresh Market and Sander’s Fish Market.  The cages are secured to docks, moorings or boats and volunteers spend 10 weeks maintaining the cage and collecting data on spat growth.

For the third year in a row, a site was operated by teachers and students at the Little Harbour School in Portsmouth.  Janine Bibeau, a teacher at the school said, “Not only are we helping by hosting these baby oysters that will soon be part of a new or existing reef, we are educating the next generation about taking care of their environment and the consequences of not doing so.”

At the end of the ten week period, the spat are large enough to be “planted” in the bay.  Last week, the volunteer raised spat were taken by scientists and relocated on a newly constructed restoration reef.  The two-acre reef was constructed earlier this year by The Nature Conservancy and the University of New Hampshire from recycled surf clam and oyster shell at the mouth of the Squamscott River in Newmarket.

“We have great hope for these oysters and this reef,” continued Konisky.  “As we ramp up our efforts to restore more acres of reef, we need to also expand the number of volunteers who help grow the oysters.  We know these efforts work, and see the positive connections that this program brings to the community.  Our plan is that more families, more businesses and more people become interested in solutions to the bay’s water quality issues and become involved in this program.”

“The water quality of the Great Bay estuary has deteriorated in recent decades,” said Dee Barstow, 4th year Oyster Conservationists.  “During the same period, the oyster population has diminished greatly.  While it is important for surrounding municipalities to upgrade their waste water treatment facilities to restrict the amount of nitrogen being discharged, it is also important to replenish the oyster population.  Oysters filter the water naturally, and their reefs create a habitat for other marine species.  That is why this is our fourth year as oyster conservationists.  We hope that this small effort can help preserve the precious natural resource we have in our backyard.”

For the complete 2012 Oyster Conservationist Report, Please Visit

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit or follow @nature_press on Twitter.

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Jim O'Brien
Director of External Affairs
22 Bridge Street, 4th Floor
Concord, NH 03301


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