Approaching a ragtag team of CBF volunteers and staff, my first observation was the putrid stench lofting from the truck lovingly called the, "Spatmobile." On a mild December day last week, CBF partnered with the South River Federation to plant 200,000 spat-on shell and 87,000 adult oysters.
Covered in oyster "goo"—a combination of oyster refuse, mud, and algae—volunteers tackled the dirty work of oyster planting with vigor. Like a well-oiled machine, volunteers cut open bags of oysters, dumped them into baskets, and carried them to the dock to await transport on a skiff to their eventual new home in the South River.
These oysters are crucial in the fight to save the Bay. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters. Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting.
Volunteer Bill Wheeler learned that while this oyster planting was a small step in the right direction, restoring the Bay's native oyster population won't happen overnight. "One thing I found out about oysters that's just fantastic is they start out as all male and then they change sex later on. So it's important that when you reseed a reef you have to do it over a couple years because they can't breed if they're all males." Indeed, sanctuary reefs are critical in oyster restoration efforts.
As the group wrapped up the oyster planting, I finally commented on the stench. Without missing a beat, Pat Beall, CBF's Maryland Oyster Restoration Specialist exclaimed, "This is the smell of saving the Bay!" The foul odor largely consists of oyster poo—the oysters clean the water by consuming pollutants and either eating them or shaping them into small, mucous packets, which are deposited on the bottom where they are harmless. So quite literally, the stench is the smell of a saved Bay.
I don't particularly look forward to the next time I get a whiff of the Spatmobiles precious cargo, but with the support of our dedicated volunteers and generous members, I'm grateful that with every oyster we plant, we'll generate cleaner water, vital habitat for critters, and ultimately, a healthier Bay.
Join us in this critical oyster restoration work. With programs in both Maryland and Virginia, volunteer opportunities include oyster gardening, shell shaking, and oyster planting. And with holiday feasts approaching, there is more opportunity to help by recycling your oyster shells.
—Text and Photos by Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate