How Are Restored Oysters in Harris Creek Doing?

A NOAA report details the health of some oyster reefs in Harris Creek, three years after they received restoration work.

The comprehensive report, "Analysis of Monitoring Data from Harris Creek Sanctuary Oyster Reefs: Data on the First 102 Acres/12 Reefs Restored," describes areas that were either seeded with spat-on-shell or constructed of hard substrate and then seeded with spat-on-shell in 2012. Plans developed by scientists and restoration agencies call for detailed monitoring of restored reefs at three, and then again at six, years after restoration work is done.

These 12 reefs are the first reefs to have this three-year “check-in” monitoring done. Late last fall, scientists gathered data from restored oyster reefs in Harris Creek, Maryland. Data was acquired using divers and patent tongs. While some preliminary data were released earlier this year, scientists dove deeper into the data to develop the comprehensive report.

Data show that so far, the restoration project is doing well.

All 12 reefs exceeded standards set to show healthy restoration efforts—they have more than 15 oysters per square meter. 50% of those sites did even better—they had more than 50 oysters per square meter.

All 12 sites also had oysters from different “year classes”—which means that there are oysters of different ages present, a good indicator of oyster survivorship.

The initial construction phase of oyster restoration work in Harris Creek, in which more than 350 acres of oyster reef habitat were planted, wrapped up in September 2015; 2 billion seed were planted onto 350 acres of reefs. Seeded reefs now cover 8 percent of the 4,500-acre Harris Creek oyster sanctuary. This work was accomplished by the Maryland Interagency Oyster Restoration Workgroup and partners.

Harris Creek was one of the first areas selected for large-scale restoration under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement (2014), which calls for restoration of native oysters to 10 Bay tributaries by 2025. Oyster restoration projects are also under way in the Tred Avon and Little Choptank Rivers in Maryland. Efforts are also under way in several tributaries in Virginia, including the Lynnhaven, Lafayette, and Piankatank Rivers.