The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays has finished building the first artificial oyster reef in the state.
The reef is in Little Assawoman Bay near Fenwick Island. It’s about 10x40 feet, is built out of used oyster shells and is seeded with oysters raised by the Center’s volunteer oyster gardeners.
It’s the first of three planned pilot reefs in Delaware, representing the first stage of a larger plan to increase shellfish life in state waterways.
The Center’s Science and Restoration Coordinator Marianne Walch says increasing the shellfish population will lead to demonstrable water quality improvement in Delaware.
“Those oysters are removing sediments from the water; they are removing a lot nitrogen from the water,” said Walch. “Excess nitrogen in the water is one of the primary water quality problems in our inland bays. It results in algae blooms and in low oxygen levels.”
Walch says the Center is monitoring the water quality near the reef. A water monitoring project run by the state and the University of Delaware is also documenting changes to water quality over time to track the oysters’ effect.
Walch adds the Center will also monitor the pilot reef over the next couple of years to be sure the oysters are successful.
“How well do the oysters that are there grow? How well do they survive? Are they healthy? Are they reproducing? Because ultimately we want to have reefs that are self-sustaining, where the oysters continue to reproduce and the oyster reefs become larger,” she said.
Walch says the center is continuing to with residents who have lakefront properties to start oyster gardens, as well as its “Don’t Chuck Your Shuck” oyster shell recycling program with area restaurants.
Walch adds the oysters in the reef are for study only, and not to be harvested for food.