Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are remarkably fabulous creatures. They start out life smaller than the head of a pin, drift through the open seas until they find just the right spot, the attach themselves onto other oysters and grow. They don’t hunt or even gather food – they simply filter the water that they live in, pulling out microscopic plants and animals to eat. This act of filter-feeding cleans the water around them. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day.
Oysters are also delicious. So delicious to humans that the current oyster population of the Chesapeake Bay is less than 1% of its original levels. Dredging for oysters (essentially using enormous tongs to yank up chunks of oyster reef) destroyed most of their reef habitat over the last century and a half. Recently individual and commercial oyster farms have been taking hold – buy bags of baby oysters (called spat, smaller than a dime), and grow them off your own pier in floats. In a year or so, they are ready to be eaten. In the meantime, they clean the water! Commercial operations use in-water cages to protect oysters from predators. As a diligent young conservationist, Lauren first started farming oysters in Mathews at age 8.
Recently, we decided to take the oyster farm to the next level. This was in large part a response to the fact that our oysters kept growing (some of them are over 10 inches long!) and we didn’t really want to eat many of them, because we were more interested in having them clean the water and provide habitat for new baby oysters.
So, instead of a mass harvest or simply dumping all of the oysters out of their floats in a hopeful location, we combined our skills from science fieldwork in Hawaii, years of oyster farming, and general home engineering to produce our very own artificial oyster reef. We dismantled the previous floats into big PVC staple shapes that we filled with quick-set concrete and wiggled into the mud to provide a base. The bags were left with oysters in them, but we cut holes in the top. These were cable-tied onto the staple base.
One month later, everything is still exactly where we left it! Everytime we cruise past on a paddleboard or kayak we notice school minnows, and often a little blue crab or two. We are excited to see what happens with this new home project 🙂