Bio-Reefs Are Growing Oysters in a Big Way

Several years ago, when I moved to my home on the Chesapeake Bay in Mathews County, I knew that I wanted to do something about the shoreline, which was eroding in a dramatic way. A ledge of soil and sea grass hung over the water, and each new tide and storm, it seemed, took more of the soil with it. Because the water is fairly shallow near the pier, low tides and winds create a high-energy impact on the shoreline. Storm tides wash more into the grass but then pull soil out as they recede.

 

At the same time, I noticed that little oysters were growing here and there on some old chunks of concrete that had been put along the shore near my pier. After researching the various materials and theories regarding erosion control, it was clear to me that a living shoreline of sorts was the way to go. One weekend, I happened to hear about an “oyster fair” being sponsored by the Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (TOGA) on Gwynn’s Island. Curious, I attended, and saw several presentations that really caught my interest. I purchased two floats with some baby oysters and made plans to be an oyster gardener. And I also saw a display by Ready Reef, a company that builds concrete pyramids into which oyster shells are imbedded. The shells provide an optimum surface for “strikes” of oyster spat. I talked with Chris Davis, who is a principal in the company, and asked if he would come look at my shoreline. I was certain that the artificial reef could be a successful approach to controlling erosion along my shoreline, with the major additional benefit of growing oysters!

That was almost three years ago (correction- installed Nov. 2014). Today, I am an enthusiastic member of TOGA, I have thousands of wild baby oysters growing on approximately 150 feet of concrete reef structures along my shoreline, with an opening for kayak and canoe access. The eroding ledge is filling in with sand, soil and sea grass. Ready Reef handled the permit process and monitors the results of the reef as it evolves. I envision the day when the oysters grow into a continuous reef habitat for crabs, shrimp, minnows and other sea creatures, while providing the filtering impact for the Bay that is so critical for cleaner water. In addition, at a recent TOGA event, I also bought two bottom cages, along with hundreds of seed oysters, both diploid and triploid, to grow in the years to come. I still have about 150 oysters from my first visit to the oyster fair (about 200 of them have been eaten!) and they are happily getting to be 7 and 8 inches long in the bottom cages.

 

People have long since destroyed the massive oyster reefs and pristine Bay waters of past centuries. But I can see progress being made with living shoreline policies administered by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and through new technologies like man-made oyster reefs that give private waterfront owners better tools to stop erosion and promote healthy populations of the amazing delicious oyster!

-- Chris Bridge