Since the turn of the 20th century, oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay have declined dramatically, largely due to disease, overharvesting, loss of habitat, and degraded water quality. With the State of Maryland placing increased emphasis on restoring the Chesapeake Bay, oyster restoration remains paramount in improving the Bay's vitality.
As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in coordination with the State of Maryland, the Commonwealth of Virginia, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other key stakeholders, developed the Native Oyster Restoration Master Plan to identify large-scale, concentrated oyster restoration throughout the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.
As the first comprehensive Bay-wide strategy for large-scale oyster restoration, the master plan's long-term goal is to restore an abundant, self-sustaining oyster population that performs important ecological functions such as providing reef community habitat, nutrient cycling, spatial connectivity, and water filtration, among others, and contributes to the oyster fishery.
"This is a first-of-its-kind document," said Angie Sowers, study manager for the master plan. "It helps us identify the best locations for oyster restoration and outlines some ideal methods for restoring the oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay."
Last spring, restoration efforts began in Harris Creek, which borders the east side of Tilghman Island near the mouth of the Choptank River in Maryland. The Corps of Engineers placed 22 acres of substrate, after which NOAA placed spat, or baby oysters, on top of the substrate.
This spring, the Corps is continuing to place substrate in Harris Creek, and is expected to place an additional 34 acres by June.
While oyster restoration efforts are currently concentrated in Harris Creek, the Corps will be working in both Maryland and Virginia to meet a May 2009 executive order goal of restoring oyster populations in 20 tributaries by 2025. As each tributary is restored, the hope is that restoring oysters in one region, may spur more oysters elsewhere.
"Ideally, by placing oysters in Harris Creek, the oysters will mature, spawn, and travel to adjacent tributaries to settle," said Claire O'Neill, program manager for oyster restoration. "We hope to really encourage and help develop a self-sustaining oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay."
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers strives to protect, sustain, and improve the natural and man-made environment of our nation, and is committed to compliance with applicable environmental and energy statutes, regulations, and Executive Orders. Sustainability is not only part of the Corps' decision processes, but is also part of its culture.