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August 3, 2021

One Shell of a Year: Studying Oyster Reefs on the South River

In the South River, hundreds of millions of oysters have been raised and released on over a dozen oyster reefs. However, at many of these reefs, no one has been checking up on the health of the oysters- are they still alive? Are they reproducing? Are they attracting other species that like to live in oyster reefs?

This year I set out to answer some of these questions for my Capstone research project. Read my full report below:  https://arundelrivers.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/Obara-Capstone-Final.pdf

Map of my five study reefs. Basemap and legend borrowed from Maryland Department of Natural Resources. For complete map visit: http://gisapps.dnr.state.md.us/Aquaculture/index.html.

 

What 4 methods did I use to study the oyster reefs?

With hand tongs: two 20ft long wooden poles with rakes attached to the end to scoop up the oysters- think giant claw machine! I have so much respect for watermen who use this heavy equipment every day- it is certainly no easy task.

With GoPro cameras: I lowered a cube of PVC pipe mounted with 3 GoPro cameras onto the reef surface to take live footage of the oysters. I saw barnacles filtering the water and grass shrimp swimming by.

By taking measurements: I measured the length, width, and height of 15 oysters per reef. I also counted any baby oysters (spat) I saw and noted and biota such as barnacles or crabs living on the shells.

With a trawl net: Check out my blog https://arundelrivers.org/uncovering-the-hidden-ecosystems-above-oyster-reefs/ that goes into detail on this awesome experience.

What did I learn?

Science is MESSY- and not just from all the oyster mud. Every day in the field required some form of troubleshooting- from trying to locate the oyster reefs to learning how to operate the hand tongs and the trawl net. I was surprised by how similar in size all the oysters I measured were- especially since oyster restoration has been ongoing for years. It was also very interesting to catch some unexpected species in the trawl net, such as a diamondback terrapin and a brown bullhead catfish. I was hoping to have recorded the presence of more live baby oysters which would indicate that the adult oysters are healthy and able to reproduce successfully. This result is just a testament to the work still needed to ensure the viability of the oyster population in the South River, and more broadly, the Chesapeake Bay. In sharing my research, I hope to provide my community and local organizations with data useful for future decisions regarding oyster restoration, monitoring, and management.

To see more about my oyster research, read here.

To read previous reports on Glebe Reef, visit these blog posts:

https://arundelrivers.org/whats-the-sanctuary-oyster-reef-look-like/

https://arundelrivers.org/glebe-bay-oyster-sanctuary-reef-population-survey/

Thanks to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Oyster Recovery Center, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center Fisheries Conservation Lab, and Virginia Institute of Marine Science Shellfish Pathology Lab for supporting my research, offering advice, loaning equipment, and providing data.

Stay muddy. Stay curious. Signing off,

 

Chloe Obara

-Chesapeake Conservation Corps 2020-2021