The Final Big Dump of Florida Oyster Shells in the Chesapeake Bay

Wildlife officials have spent the past year dumping three-million-year-old oyster shells from Florida — about 100,000 tons of them — into the Chesapeake Bay. They say it’s a good thing.

Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration
Fossilized oyster shells from Florida being loaded for transportation to Maryland. (Photo courtesy

The state of Maryland is trying to rebuild some oyster reefs in the Bay, but Maryland didn’t have enough shell-beds left for breeding oysters. Officials contacted the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation which has experience with this sort of thing in other major waterways in the U.S. and knew where to find shells to create beds that would entice Chesapeake Bay oysters to stick around and reproduce. They brought in CSX, the national train company, to handle the transportation.

Freight trains filled with shells have been unloading at CSX’s Curtis Bay ore pier once every 10 to 14 days for the past year. The shells were transferred to barges for the trip to sanctuaries on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Once in place, the shells provide a habitat where young oysters can thrive.

“We are already seeing remarkable results in Harris Creek,” says DNR Secretary Joe Gill.”Once degraded reefs are now teeming with life as a direct result of our collaborative efforts, and we couldn’t be more excited about the progress.”

The effort in Harris Creek, a tidal creek on the Eastern Shore, has been going on since 2011 and areas with less than one oyster per square meter now have upwards of 25 oysters per square meter.

Maryland spent $6.3 million buying fossilized shells from Gulf Coast Aggregates near Carrabelle, Florida. CSX provided about $2.5 million in shipping services. Two other organizations — the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and the Oyster Recovery Partnership — are going to handle the production of young oysters and their placement on 70 acres of new reefs.

Here’s a video of the CSX Oyster Express:

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