Using Oysters to Clean and Protect the Bayshore

bayshore-from-trainNY/NJ Baykeeper and partners have installed what is being called an urban living shoreline at Naval Weapons Station Earle in Leonardo, which is part of Middletown, NJ. The living shoreline is about an acre in size, consists of an artificial reef which uses live oysters and concrete structures to fortify the coast along the Raritan Bayshore.

The oysters filter the water, and the structures, called “oyster castles” provide a habitat for fish. The oyster castles being used provide a surface that oysters attach to and grow on.

Under the water, the reef breaks up waves and the energy in storms, providing protection for the coast.

It became clear in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy that coastal resiliency had to become an immediate priority.  The weapons station, which was hit hard by the storm, first detected erosion near the Ware Creek.  Protecting the waterways is fundamental to the United States Navy so it went into action, turning to the NY/NJ Baykeeper, a group it partnered with on restoration activities to protect the vulnerable urban coasts.  Together, they have collaborated to address shoreline erosion and improve coastal resiliency in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary.

“We live in an area where a lot of the naturally occurring resilient opportunities; dunes, marshes, have been destroyed so there’s an increase in flooding,” Meredith Comi, Restoration Program Director at NY/NJ Baykeeper, told CBS News.

According to Comi, the living shoreline will provide data to tackle the threats of climate change and shoreline erosion. It will determine if a living shoreline can stabilize and protect the coastal environment while improving water quality and creating aquatic habitat in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary.

At one time, oysters were a thriving species in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary.  Years of pollution, overharvesting and reef sedimentation have taken their toll on the population. Efforts to restore a sustainable oyster population have been met with obstacles. In 2010, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) banned all shellfish research, restoration, and education activities in waters determined be too contaminated or classified as prohibited for shellfish harvest.

Fortunately, the Navy at Naval Weapons Station Earle has provided property, guidance, and support to the organization’s oyster restoration projects. The living shoreline project has received permits from the NJDEP and the US Army Corps of Engineers. It is one of the first times oyster castles have been used in New Jersey.

The project costs about $250,000 an acre. This project is being funded, in part, by the Marta Heflin Foundation.

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