2013-03-07 / Front Page

Baykeeper to test oyster reef structures

$155K grant will fund research of oyster viability on three reef structures
Staff Writer

Meredith Comi and Mike Acquafredda, of the NY-NJ Baykeeper, pull nets of oysters from the waters off Naval Weapons Station Earle, Leonardo, in July 2012 to determine whether the mollusks survived over-wintering. 
ERIC SUCAR staff Meredith Comi and Mike Acquafredda, of the NY-NJ Baykeeper, pull nets of oysters from the waters off Naval Weapons Station Earle, Leonardo, in July 2012 to determine whether the mollusks survived over-wintering. ERIC SUCAR staff KEYPORT — The NY-NJ Baykeeper will expand its oyster restoration project with a test of several reef structures off Naval Weapons Station Earle.

According to Meredith Comi, director of the Baykeeper’s oyster restoration program, a $155,676 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will fund the three-year research project to determine what type of structure would provide the highest overwinter survival and growth rates.

“It’s been a good couple of months for the restoration program, with the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) giving us the permit and now this funding,” Comi said.

“We will start working in April and get these structures up in the summer. We are looking at 50,000 oysters that will be going in [the bay] this summer.”

Staff and volunteers with the Baykeeper and the Rutgers Center for Urban Sustainability will construct a new experimental reef using three types of support structures made of concrete, rebar or mesh, which either contain the oysters or provide a surface onto which the oysters attach.

The structure with the highest survival rate will then be used to contain oysters in order to study long-term survival, reproduction, reef biodiversity and water quality.

“We are going to test the oysters to see which ones grow the best [and] which ones survive the best. We are going to do waterquality data collection, and we are going to use fish traps to catch any organisms that are near the reefs and fish traps off the reefs to show that when you have reefs and oysters, you have more fish.” Comi said.

Assuming that survival is high, the restoration area will be expanded in 1- to 2- acre increments in the coming years. Monitoring will continue for a minimum of five years.

Comi said the expansion project would repeat the 2010 oyster reef project in Keyport, which was shut down by the DEP after concerns were raised that oysters used for ecological restoration could be poached and sold to consumers, which could create a public health problem.

Data collected within the 10 months that the Keyport reefs were in place will be used as a comparison to the project at Earle.

“In Keyport, it was such a short amount of time, but we did see that some of the oysters did better on certain structures. We definitely saw more fish than crabs around the reef. The amount of juvenile fish that we saw was astounding, and that is exactly what a reef is supposed to do. It’s supposed to provide protection for baby fish and other organisms,” Comi said.

“We have something to go on, and that is why we felt it was so important to continue it. We knew that we were seeing good things,” she added.

Additional studies will be done to show how oyster reefs provide protection against storms, she said, as well as prevent erosion and sediment buildup.

“We have a little under 11 acres to do research and test structures and figure out which method works best in an urban area,” Comi said in an interview.

“Then hopefully the ban on research and restoration in the rest of the estuary will be lifted sometime soon, and we will have a nice model where we can go in and do restoration in other areas as well.”

After the shutdown of the project in 2010, the Baykeeper approached the U.S. Navy and proposed placing the oyster cages at Earle, which is under 24/7 security, eliminating the poaching risk.

The project at Earle began in October 2011, with the placement of several oyster nets that contained approximately 3,500 oysters.

In June 2012, the oyster nets were hauled out of the water and officials announced that approximately 90 percent of the 3,600 oysters had survived.

This prompted the Baykeeper to ask the DEP to expand the project, and on Jan. 2, the DEP issued a five-year permit to utilize approximately 10.7 acres of Navy property for the research.

“The nets were to just confirm that the oysters would do well at the site. That part of the study is done. We are moving to the next phase of testing the structures. Once we figure out what works best, we can expand at Earle,” Comi said.

“We are looking forward to studying that this summer and next summer, now that we have the permit and the funding to do a lot of research.”

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