Baby Oysters Are Finally Growing In Raritan Bay

December 2, 2017
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From left, Michele Langa and Marc Mole, of NY/NJ Baykeeper, and Carl Alderson with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, check out the Baykeeper’s manmade oyster reef off N.W.S. Earle, Leonardo, which has begun to show signs of new oyster life for the first time.

By John Burton |

N.W.S. EARLE — It may be a little early for handing out cigars, but the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper is happy that oysters appear to have taken to the Raritan Bay.

Scientists working with the environmental organization’s oyster restoration program last week discovered the natural growth of baby oysters on the group’s manmade reefs in the local waterways, Baykeeper announced.

“It’s really exciting. We should be celebrating,” said Meredith Comi, restoration program director for Baykeeper.

Biologically known as spat, the baby oysters were found for the first time at the manmade oyster restoration reef the organization established at the shipping pier at Naval Weapons Station Earle’s Leonardo location, an approximately 2.9-mile-long structure jutting into the Raritan Bay.

This discovery indicates “that the adult oysters on the reef are spawning and the larvae is settling back on the reef,” the organization announced in a press release.

“This is the first step in a self-sustaining reef,” which is the goal of the project, the statement said.

The discovery is very significant,” Comi said, “because it means that we do have the adults in there and they’re healthy enough to actually reproduce.”

In 2011 the U.S. Navy allowed Baykeeper to establish a manmade oyster reef, constructed from concrete blocks at the Earle pier in an attempt to reintroduce oysters to the Raritan Bay. According to scientists and environmentalists, oysters had long been an important component of the Two River ecosystem. Oysters, experts in the field say, serve as a natural water filtration system and the reefs can function in the same way as jetties, offering some shoreline protection for tidal surges like those that devastated the coast during Super Storm Sandy.

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“By working in partnership with community non-governmental organizations like the NY/NJ Baykeeper, Naval Weapons Station Earle is working to protect the Navy’s critical infrastructure, as well as our surrounding communities, against future storm surges,” said Eric Helms, Earle’s environmental director.

In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Baykeeper to destroy the oysters and dismantle the reefs the group established off the Keyport Harbor, in the Raritan Bay, and in the Navesink River, off of Red Bank. The DEP’s order stemmed from those waterways not meeting federal clean water standards. State officials feared the oyster beds would be vulnerable to illegal harvesting and the oysters might be contaminated and could be consumed by the unsuspecting public. But Baykeeper was able to reach an agreement with Earle for the oyster beds for research purposes, given the naval installation is highly patrolled and protected.

The state Legislature about two years ago approved a bill that would allow organizations like Baykeeper to establish similar beds for educational and research purposes, as long as safety guidelines can be put in place that meet the DEP standards.

Since then, “We’ve been having some very good, open conversations on how to move forward,” Comi said, noting the DEP awarded Baykeeper a $150,000 grant to study a sustainable shoreline for the Earle property.

So far, though, oysters haven’t taken in other areas, like the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers, despite Baykeeper and other environmental groups’ efforts. But Comi said she remains optimistic. “I know there has to be more out there,” she said last week.

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Oysters traditionally spawn twice a year, usually in June and in August, according to Comi.

This article was first published in the Nov. 30-Dec. 7, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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