With monitoring data officially in, the Chesapeake Bay Program celebrates having restored oyster habitat in six of 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries selected in our Oyster Outcome, plus one “bonus” tributary in Virginia.
As part of the partnership’s outcome, five rivers in Maryland and five in Virginia were selected as locations for large-scale restoration of oyster reefs, to be completed by 2025. In 2020, Virginia added an 11th restoration site in the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River.
At these sites, multiple oysters reefs are established to provide habitat for the Bay wildlife. Oyster reefs are colonies of oysters that attach themselves to hard structures, typically older shells, rock, piers or any hard, submerged surface. Supporting oysters is essential to a thriving Chesapeake Bay: these iconic bivalves clean the water as they feed, and the reefs they form provide important habitat for fish and crabs.
Restoration in each tributary includes developing a restoration plan to guide the work, constructing and/or seeding reefs, and monitoring to make sure the project is successful. As of the end of 2021, a restoration plan has been developed for all 10 selected tributaries and construction and/or seeding had been finished on six. Construction and seeding at Virginia’s bonus tributary is also completed, bringing the total to seven waterways where oyster reef restoration has been completed in the Chesapeake Bay.
Restoration in each tributary is unique, due to the tributary’s size, amount of existing oyster reef, and other characteristics including salinity levels. While the Upper St. Mary’s River restoration plan calls for 60 acres of healthy oyster reef, the Piankatank River includes 438 acres of healthy reef, making it the world’s largest completed oyster restoration project. Of the original 10 tributaries, 1,740 acres of healthy habitat were established by 2021.
Development of the oyster habitat is coordinated by the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Maryland and Virginia Oyster Restoration Interagency Teams, which includes state and federal agencies, local governments, academic institutions and nonprofits organizations. Together, these groups work towards the oyster restoration goal noted in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
To learn more about the 11 oyster restoration projects, visit ChesapeakeProgress.