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Pilot oyster reefs installed in bays this year show early signs of success

Courtesy of the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays

The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays has finished part of its monitoring of pilot artificial oyster reefs installed this year, and early signs look promising. 


The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB) led installation of three artificial oyster reefs in the Little Assawoman and Rehoboth Bays this past summer and fall. The reefs are made of recycled oyster shells held together by mesh, and “seeded” with oysters raised by volunteers. The nonprofit plans to use the pilot reefs to learn how best to install other reefs in the future.

“The reefs are designed to help us learn about which areas in the bays are going to be more optimal for reef creation,” said environmental scientist Andrew McGowan. “The ultimate goal is to use the information from these reefs to create larger and self-sustaining natural wild oyster reefs. ”

The nonprofit has now finished a year of monitoring areas around the new pilot reefs. 

Credit Courtesy of the Center for the Inland Bays
The artificial oyster reefs were installed this summer and fall

“It’s definitely far too early to declare anything a success or failure yet," said McGowan. "Oyster diseases may still be working their way into the population. Predators and natural mortality has only been occurring for a few months."

But McGowan says early signs are encouraging. "One of the reefs had a huge amount of natural recruitment … It was a really good early sign. More baby oysters means more adult oysters in future years.”

Oysters are keystone species in local coastal ecosystems. They filter some pollutants out of the water, and oyster reefs provide habitat for other species. 

McGowan says scientists are still waiting on water quality numbers, but that the pilot reefs are already serving as habitat for small fish, crabs and invertebrates.

The Center for Inland Bays plans to monitor the reefs for several more years.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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