Building an oyster reef: The process
Building an oyster reef begins with the groundwork. In 2016, Dale Parsons partnered with like-minded experts and representatives from Stockton University.
He launched his first oyster reef restoration work with funding from the Barnegat Bay Partnership. Thus far, the project has provided an abundant amount of data, critical to understanding what allows oysters reefs in Barnegat Bay to grow and thrive.
Finding home: Oysters attach and remain there for life
At spawning, oysters are free-swimming larvae that seek a hard surface to latch onto, using an organ known as their foot. Once attached to this surface, a process called “setting,” the oyster remains affixed for the rest of its life.
To help oysters find an ideal home, Parsons Oyster Reef Recovery uses recycled oyster, clam and conch shells. The jagged, rough edges of these shells help to protect oysters from predators that would otherwise consume them. Once the oyster “set,” they immediately begin to grow.
Parsons Mariculture receives shell from vendors or through donations by partners such as Long Beach Township. The shell is tumbled, washed, and caged before going into large tanks which are continuously fed filtered sea water. Oyster larvae are added to the tanks and within 48 hours, the larvae attach to the shell to form oyster spat. The spat grow to a noticeable oyster “blister” before being transported by barge to the restoration lease in the bay.
Ensuring Oyster Reef Survival
The vision for Parsons Oyster Reef Recovery is to utilize the latest in aquaculture research and practices to continue building and sustaining oyster reefs in Barnegat Bay.
Planting Zostera is one the tools that Parsons Oyster Reef Recovery will implement in restoration techniques. Zostera provides sanctuary for many types of species during the very early stages of life. Every spring, Zostera growth draws a significant amount of nitrogen from the water. In its decomposition, this eel-grass also promotes the health and stability of the marine environment.
Clams are another species targeted in Parsons’ restoration efforts. Similar to oysters, the wild clam population has greatly declined since the 1800’s. Many of the techniques that benefit oyster restoration also benefit clams. For example, the establishment and proliferation of oyster reefs will help to protect the juvenile clam population.
Multiply that number by one hundred and that amounts to potentially 5,000 gallons of water naturally cleaned by these amazing shellfish.