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July 10, 2019

Scuba Diving South River’s Oyster Sanctuary Reef

By Shayna Keller, Chesapeake Conservation Corps Volunteer

On June 26th, I went scuba diving with my dive buddies, Evan Claggett and Brad King, at the Glebe Bay Oyster Sanctuary Reef on the South River. Our objective was to collect five random samples of the reef and bring back at least 50 oysters to measure. At 11:00 AM we suited up and descended to search pre-chosen random coordinates to collect the oysters. The visibility was about a few inches or less. Safety was the number one priority so diving slowly was the name of the game. At first, the team was still figuring out logistics and an efficient plan to bring the oysters up to the boat but after the first couple samples the collection process went smoothly. Brad was kind enough to build us milk crates attached to a buoy. We brought these milk crates down with us and loaded them up with the collected oysters. This made things much easier to manage.

It was a full day of double checking coordinates, gearing up, collecting the oysters, and eventually venturing around the reef to see what else was there. This is when we noticed that one side of the reef looked much better than the rest. Not only were there more oysters, but most of them looked to be quite mature! The water was clearer in that area and there was lots of habitat for the fish, crabs, and eels to hide in. In fact, we did catch a quick glimpse of a blue crab who swiftly scurried away as soon as it sensed us. You can see this footage in the video below!

Now that the field work is completed and the oysters measured, I am compiling the data to analyze.  We hope to establish for the reef a baseline shell budget or the amount of oyster shell on the reef. The amount of shell surface area is critical to understanding whether the reef is growing or diminishing. Hopefully this population survey of the Reef can continue annually for many years ahead. By comparing the yearly data, we can understand the health of our Reef even more than we already do. This understanding can also help the Arundel Rivers Federation and other non-profits understand the effects of the environment on oyster sanctuary reefs and the effects oyster sanctuary reefs have on the environment! I have also studied several survey protocols to develop a dive and population survey protocol for future years to come.

I want to thank the Chesapeake Bay Trust for funding this project, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Marylanders Grow Oysters volunteers for all your efforts on the Sanctuary Reef. I especially want to acknowledge Brad King for your SCUBA expertise and the use of your equipment, as well as the time you put into this project.  This project couldn’t have happened without Evan Claggett for being my dive and collection buddy and Jesse Iliff for supporting me through this project with your knowledge of the Reef, your mentorship, time, and patience.