LEONARDO, NJ — Oyster castles have found a new home at the bottom of the Raritan Bay near Naval Weapons Station Earle.

These concrete oyster “homes” were placed underwater last week as part of the NY/NJ Baykeeper’s ongoing effort to construct the first “living shoreline” in New Jersey’s portion of the Raritan Bay.

About 1.5 million juvenile oysters were transported on August 14 and 16 from Leonardo State Marina aboard the Baykeeper patrol boat and taken to the experimental reef at Station Earle, where the fledgling oysters were introduced into the waters by NY/NJ Baykeeper’s team of scientists.

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NY/NJ Baykeeper cultivates juvenile oysters at the Earle facility, where the oyster larvae are grown and then released onto its oyster reefs in Raritan Bay and monitored for growth and survivorship.

It was part of a long-term restoration project to bring back the oyster population to the New York-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary where they are functionally extinct due to rampant development, overharvesting and pollution, according to the nonprofit group.

“The idea was to see if oysters could survive, and if so could we bring back this important species,” said NY/NJ Baykeeper Restoration Program Director Meredith Comi of the program’s launch almost two decades ago. “They did, in fact, survive and the oyster gardening program was borne out of that. Over the past few years we've shifted to a whole ecosystem approach — a living shoreline involving multiple species.

“Ultimately, we are testing restoration methods in an urban area that we hope can be replicated in other urban estuaries. The big picture is all about fortifying our coasts and increasing habitat for other important species in our waters. We always say that if we can do this work here, we can do it anywhere,” she said.

In 2016, NY/NJ Baykeeper and the Rutgers University Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability installed a 0.91-acre living shoreline adjacent to Ware Creek at Station Earle using oysters set on vertical oyster reef structures, or castles, which can reduce storm energies and soil erosion.

In November 2017, NY/NJ Baykeeper found that its oysters were naturally reproducing on its reef for the first time. The millions of oysters that NY/NJ Baykeeper placed on the reef had grown and spawned, resulting in larvae settling back on the reef –all indicators of a healthy habitat.

“We are very proud of our work with the U.S. Navy, Rutgers University and others at Earle Naval Base on Raritan Bay, but we are also incredibly grateful to the bold actions of NY/NJ Baykeeper Founder Andy Willner and former NY/NJ Baykeeper Board Chair Ben Longstreth when they placed a barge load of oyster shells at the feet of Lady Liberty more than two decades ago,” NY/NJ Baykeeper CEO Greg Remaud said. “That barge of oysters was the first tangible step in what has in recent years led to widespread oyster restoration projects around the NY-NJ Harbor and brought oyster restoration in the region to new heights.”

NY/NJ Baykeeper www.nynjbaykeeper.org has restored more than 3.5 million oysters back to NewYork-New Jersey Harbor and Estuary waters with 200,000 to 500,000 new oysters introduced annually through its oyster restoration program.

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