are harvested for your dining pleasure.
are also grown and harvested for bigger role — helping
protect the water quality of the East Coast’s
than 300 volunteers actively grow oysters in Virginia to
help the Chesapeake Bay Foundation establish sanctuary
reefs along nearby waterways, according to Chuck Epes,
spokesman for the foundation.
Hampton Roads, for example, the foundation’s oyster
gardening program began in 1998, and its growers are
mostly, but not all, waterfront homeowners or marina
slip owners, according to Tanner Council, the foundation’s
Hampton Roads grassroots coordinator for the program.
citizens find ways to tend a garden by getting
permission from a marina, using a neighbor or friend’s
pier or tending gardens on a business’ property,"
year we will give gardeners a special ‘burgee,’ or
nautical flag, to hang at piers where restorative oyster
gardening is occurring. In this way, we hope to
highlight and honor those citizens who volunteer to
directly improve local water quality and foster the
comeback of the legendary bay oyster."
are important to the bay because one mature oyster can
filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, according to
Bonnie Kersta, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation volunteer in
what happens when you multiply that by thousands of
oysters in our bay," she says.
best thing about oyster gardening is that anyone who has
access to a tidal water site can become a gardener. Much
like vegetable gardening, it involves checking and
cleaning your oysters on a regular basis."
York County, Va., 18-year-old David Lewis began oyster
gardening in 2009. Working on a
citizenship-in-the-community merit badge for scouts, he
volunteered, along with his father, to sort, carry and
dump oysters on reefs.
he attended workshops to learn to make floats and
maintain oysters at his home.
is easiest when it is high tide," says Lewis.
the oysters grow, they can become heavy, so high tide
naturally helps pull the float out of the water,
according to Lewis. Once the float is out, weekly
maintenance is simple: He moved the oysters to the one
side of the bag, grabs a brush and scrubs the silt and
oyster poop that collect in the bag, brushing carefully
so he doesn’t damage their shells or cilia, hair-like
helpers on the edges of each oyster. He pours water over
the bag to wash away any other debris, then moves the
oysters to the other side of the bag and repeats the
added, "Even though oyster gardening can be a
little dirty, I enjoy the work and I feel accomplished
with getting done."
gardening has also benefited Lewis personally. His
science research helped him win more than 14 awards at
county, regional and state science fairs, and he won an
international Eco-Hero award from the Action for Nature
magazine, which led to a feature article in On Earth
think the biggest benefit is that it helped me realize
that I would like a career in marine science research,
animal research, or as a veterinarian," says Lewis,
who will begin studying biology and aquaculture at
Virginia Tech this fall.
Riggins Rich comes from a family that has maintained
local oyster beds for many years, so oyster gardening
comes naturally to her.
recent decades during which bay pollution and oyster
disease decimated our formerly healthy oyster stock, we
decided a couple of years ago, with bay conditions
somewhat improving, to try to restore the beds,"
attended courses and consulted local watermen. Our goal:
help clean the Chesapeake Bay."
Newport News, Va., Michelle Scott uses a neighbor’s
pier to do her oyster gardening. Married to Dr. Carl
Scott, a visiting professor at nearby Christopher
Newport University, she always finds a community project
when they move to a different university.
was something I could do in my own back yard to help the
bay," she says.
enjoyable to watch a tiny creature, no bigger than my
pinky nail, which comes in a mesh bag of 1,000, beat the
odds of winter surf, barnacles, blue crabs, storm water
runoff, disease, and my own inexperience, grow to 2
inches and counting.
nine months, these oysters are cleaning up to 50 gallons
of James River water per day when water temps are above
50 degrees Fahrenheit. What an amazing creature."