A team of animal conservationists have begun re-establishing the local colony of oyster in New Jersey by releasing more than a million seedlings of the shellfish, known as spat, off of Barnegat Bay.
Members of the American Littoral Society sent off around 1.5 million oyster spat in Ocean Gate, which were then taken to an artificial reef system located around a quarter-mile off of the township of Berkeley known as Good Luck Point.
The group was joined by several other volunteers on boats in taking the seedlings to the reef, where they released the oysters into Barnegat Bay before returning to shore.
The goal of the Littoral Society with the oyster colony is to improve the quality of the water in the bay through the shellfish's natural ability to filter out impurities and pollutants in the ocean.
The group also believes that by bolstering the number of oysters found in Barnegat Bay, the creatures can help strengthen the shoreline against the effects of devastating weather occurrences such as Superstorm Sandy. The hard shells of oysters and the raise profile and irregular shape of their beds can considerably reduce the impact of storm surges waves on the bay's shoreline.
The presence of the oyster colonies also boosts the local boating and recreational fishing industries as it provides habitats for other sea creatures such as crabs and fish.
"We are putting the pieces back in the bay, and we are doing it by pure willpower," executive director Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society said.
"Ultimately, restoration of the bay and fixing its problems will have to be solved by the community, but this shows we are on the right path."
Before the send-off of the oyster spat, the Littoral Society had arranged for 160 tons' worth of whelk shells to be dropped to the bottom of the bay three months earlier. This is to allow the oyster seedlings to attach themselves to the whelk shells and grow.
Group members said that they chose the shells of whelks as substitute habitats for the seedlings since oyster shells are relatively hard to come by. They have also begun a recycling program for shells in which a partner restaurant will collect oyster shells from customer meals. Representatives from the Littoral Society will then pick the shells up and include them to the reef.
The American Littoral Society is planning to conduct more oyster send-off parties to further improve the population of the shellfish in the bay.