The Bay's first mobile oyster restoration center is underway. Photo: Peyton Mowery/ Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Bay’s 1st Traveling Oyster Restoration Barge Up & Running

What if the hard work of restoring the Chesapeake Bay’s oysters were made faster and easier with an on-the-go restoration center?

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) has just begun operating a creative new facility that sits atop two barges and travels to oyster restoration targets in the Virginia portion of the Bay. It has six 850-gallon tanks of local river water where recycled shells or concrete reef balls are paired with oyster larvae. The baby oysters will attach to the shells and grow right on the floating facility. When they’re big enough, two cranes on the barge will lift the heavy concrete balls or recycled shells to plant the oysters on nearby reef sanctuaries.

Raising oysters right near the spot where they’ll ultimately be planted “dramatically increases efficiency,” according to CBF. The Prudence H. & Louis F. Ryan Mobile Oyster Restoration Center has been a long time coming, but worth the wait, CBF says:

“After years of preparation, we’re now finally showing that we can raise oysters on a one-of-a-kind floating restoration center,” says CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon.  “Our new oyster barge allows us to produce up to 15 million oysters per year, doubling our capacity in Virginia.”

In the oyster barge’s first mission, it left CBF’s Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach last week with recycled oyster shells and 9 million larvae in its tanks, then headed for the Lynnhaven River where restoration efforts are already well underway. CBF says that using local river water in tanks and reducing travel time from a restoration center will give ensure the oysters are healthy and well-adjusted when they are planted.

Photo: Terry Young/ Air Aspects

These oysters will contribute to the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance’s ambitious goal to add 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025. After it works in the Lynnhaven, the oyster barge may take up residence on other restoration target rivers like the Elizabeth, York, and Piankatank.

Shannon also says the oyster barge will offer education outreach opportunities: “We’ll be able to educate and engage even more people by bringing an oyster restoration center to new communities across Tidewater Virginia.”

This project is funded by Prudence and Louis Ryan, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, and the Marietta M. & Samuel T. Morgan Trust.

-Meg Walburn Viviano