Hey, who's making all that racket out there? Get off my shells!
This rather grumpy-looking toadfish is poking his head out of the door of his exclusive underwater condo. He is one of scores of critters that have taken up residence in a reef ball that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation placed in the Choptank River.
What is a reef ball? It's a whiffle-ball like sphere of concrete, with lots of openings to provide doors and windows and living spaces for fish and oysters.
Because so many of the Chesapeake Bay's natural oyster reefs have been destroyed by overfishing and disease, much of the estuary's bottom is now a muddy mess. Oysters can't grow in soft bottom. They need to attach themselves to something firm -- like other oysters, or concrete. So concrete reef balls make great breeding grounds for oysters. And as the oysters multiply, the whole neighborhood goes upscale -- attracting fish, crabs and a whole constellation of life. The heavy balls provide fortress-like protection from watermen who might want to net or dredge them up.
A year ago, CBF dropped 126 reef balls off Cook's Point in the Choptank River. We also planted 1.4 million baby oysters. Recently, photographer Michael Eversmier dove down and took these shots. The pictures tell the story: oysters and fish are thriving in their new housing complex.
Now all we have to do is bring a little holiday cheer to that scowling doorman in the top photo.
For those of you who desire a more scientific description of the project, part of the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative, read the report below:
I. Project Title:
II. Reporting Period: May 1, 2008 - September 30, 2009
III. Project Narrative (this section is required for the final comprehensive report only)
Leading policy makers agree the 300 million pounds of pollution, specifically nitrogen, entering the Chesapeake Bay
Oysters historically represented one of the Bay’s most important fisheries, but they are critical to the Bay’s revitalization in other ways as well. The Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay
Overfishing in the 19th and 20th centuries leveled most of the reefs that oysters had formed in the Bay, allowing sedimentation to cover much of their remaining habitat. Oyster parasites, including one imported from the Pacific Ocean
The Chesapeake 2000 (C2K) Agreement is a pledge made by regional government officials to remove the Chesapeake Bay
Oysters cluster together, creating dense colonies over the bottom of the Bay and its tributaries, significantly increasing surface area. The crevices and folds that the reefs create provide invaluable habitat to many other organisms including blue crabs, striped bass, weakfish, blue fish, white perch, croaker, black drum, and spotted sea trout.
The filtering capacity of oysters also improves the water quality for the benefit of other marine species. In the past, scientists have estimated that oysters could filter the entire waters of the Bay within seven days. This efficient filtering reduces pollution and turbidity within the water column and allows sunlight to reach submerged aquatic vegetation on the Bay bottom. Subsequently, the growth of underwater grasses also provides habitat to marine organisms.
Oyster reefs not only provide essential fish habitat and filtering capacity, they also serve as breeding grounds for future generations of oysters, allowing mature oysters to successfully reproduce and develop the important structural reef habitat. Oyster spat (juvenile oysters) must settle on hard substrate in order to grow. The increase in the number and acreage of oyster reefs will ultimately help increase the oyster population.
Through this grant, CBF staff, volunteers and partners built an oyster reef on the Cook’s Point oyster sanctuary on the Choptank River Dorchester County , MD.
CBF ‘set’ over 175 various-sized reef balls with oyster spat at CBF’s Oyster Restoration Center (ORC) in Shadyside, MD. These reef balls were built by volunteers from the Dorchester County
In order to take on a project of this magnitude, CBF needed to expand our setting capacity at ORC by one additional tank (funded by other sources), bringing the total to four 3,300-gallon setting tanks. The new tank was equipped with appropriate plumbing and electrical work, a tank heater, and a base platform to make it operational.
CBF worked with MD DNR and local fishermen to determine the best location for this reef within the Choptank River
One hundred twenty-six small reef balls were produced by the Dorchester County MSSA volunteers and then brought to ORC using the R/V Patricia Campbell, and set in our setting tanks. CBF held several volunteer days during which members of the public helped construct the reef balls at ORC and learned about the oyster restoration effort. MES brought reef ball molds to ORC, where volunteers assembled them, helped pour concrete into them, ‘hatched’ open the molds the following day, and repeated the process to create 55 reef balls. Once built, the reef balls were left to cure outdoors at ORC. They were then lifted into ORC’s oyster setting tanks via the crane on the R/V Patricia Campbell. Another 11 large reef balls were made and set with oysters by CBF in 2006. These reef balls had been held in a nursery area and were also deployed onto Cook’s Point alongside the other newly-set reef balls. This creates a multi-year-class structure on the reef site.
After the 126 small MSSA reef balls and 55 MES & CBF reef balls were built and placed in the setting tanks, the oyster setting process began. Several million oyster larvae, produced by the University of Maryland
Volunteers were involved in releasing the larvae into the setting tanks; collecting salinity, dissolved oxygen, and temperature data on the tanks during the time the spat were in the tanks; helped in the process of loading and unloading the tanks and nurserying the reef balls as needed; and were on board the R/V Patricia Campbell when the reef balls were planted onto the reef.
Deployment onto the reef site took place over the course of one week on October- November 2008. Reef balls were loaded on board the Patricia Campbell from the tanks and the nursery site, and deployed onto the site. Also over the course of that week, CBF staff and volunteers used the Patricia Campbell to plant an additional 1,425,000 spat-on-shell onto the reef site. These oysters were produced by the University of Maryland
V. Results/Progress to Date
CBF, with invaluable assistance from our volunteers and partners, successfully completed the setting and deployment phase of this project in early November 2008. Nearly two million oysters in two year classes are now planted on the site. The project restored approximately one acre within a 14-acre sanctuary on the Choptank River
VI. Monitoring and Maintenance Activities
In late fall of 2008, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made a trip to this site. DNR staff, along with professional staff from world-class underwater photography firm Nick Calyionias Photography, dove on the site and photodocumented it.
VII. Community Involvement
CBF and MSSA depended heavily on volunteer labor to make the reefs balls for this project. CBF also engaged volunteers in the process of setting the reef balls with oysters. Through these hands-on field experiences, volunteers of all ages learned about the importance of oysters to the Chesapeake Bay Chesapeake Bay
VIII. Outreach Activities
In addition to the outreach/ educational activities described above, CBF and DNR also met several times with local watermen and recreational fishermen in the course of deciding exactly where the reef should be constructed and how. There is significant commercial and recreational fishing activity in the Choptank, and CBF and DNR were committed to getting full buy-in from these crucial constituencies before moving forward. All parties agreed on the location and project design. During one day of deployment, a group of recreational anglers associated with MSSA was on site to observe and celebrate the oyster planting. We believe the successful site selection process and deployment of this project sets the stage for future restoration work in the
, and these same partners can be further engaged. A Choptank Riverkeeper has been hired since the project was deployed, and we have already informed him of this project and our interest in doing future projects, and his response was enthusiastic.