One of the programs that we have here at Phillips Wharf is the Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters program (TIGO), which focuses on oyster restoration. As part of the state-wide Maryland Grow Oysters program, we help support wild oyster populations in the Harris Creek Sanctuary.
Through this program, we receive baby oysters (called spat) from the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery in Cambridge, MD. We place these spat in cages and provide them to volunteer growers to hang from their docks. Over the course of approximately 9 months, these baby oysters grow into juvenile oysters. During this time, they are relatively protected from predators and receive better water flow (and that means more food and more oxygen!) than if they had been directly planted into the Bay. At the end of the program, typically in June, the oyster cages are collected and the now juvenile oysters are planted on wild oyster reefs.
As another season of this program comes to a close this week, we want to share some highlights with you.
Since we began this program in 2011, we have planted over 780,000 juvenile oysters. As of this week, we added an estimated 15,000 additional oysters at an average size of just over 1 inch (27 mm).
Having received these oysters in October, 2021 at an average size of 4.7 mm (0.18 inches), we are pleased to have seen their growth over the last 8 months, with a significant amount occurring in the last several weeks due to the Bay warming up!
A sign that restoration efforts, including programs like ours, are working is the recent DNR Fall Survey Reports which suggests that the oyster population is trending upwards (read more here). In addition, there was a record harvest of oysters during the 2021/22 season (read more here).
The last few years have favored increasing oyster populations, with low levels of disease and strong recruitment (i.e. production of new oysters), but this can change quickly. Even with the recent increases in the oyster population of the Chesapeake Bay, the current population is still a fraction of what it once was.
Because of this, Phillips Wharf is pleased to announce that we are looking to ramp up our efforts with the expansion of our restoration program, thanks in part to a generous private donation.
This fall will kick off our 12th growing season and we hope it will be the beginning of a new period of growth and development for this program. In the fall of 2021, we intentionally kept our program the smallest it has ever been. Without a physical location, we knew that we were limited in what we would be able to do, so we planned to set up only 40 cages, which were spread across 10 volunteer growers. At the peak of our program in 2016, we had 110 growers that hosted over 600 cages.
Now that we have a new location in Easton, we are excited to begin expanding this program once more.
This fall, we intend to provide 30 volunteer growers with at least 120 cages and we hope to steadily increase the program over the next few years.
We will also be expanding our volunteer oyster monitoring program, where we provide interested growers with the tools and training to measure their own oysters so that, together, we can track the oysters’ growth over the time they are in our program.
If you are interested in participating this fall, please email us at [email protected] and we will be in touch!
If you would like to support our program financially, you can do so by check or credit card. Your support helps to cover the cost of transportation, staff time, and supplies to ensure a successful program season.
Checks can made out to the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center and mailed to us at;
Phillips Wharf Environmental Center
PO Box 3117
Easton, MD 21601
For electronic donations, click here for our donation website.
As always, thank you for your support and an extra large thank you to all of our wonderful TIGO volunteers that have participated in this program over the last 11 years!