Over the last two weeks, we delivered all the cages for our Tilghman Islanders Grow Oysters 2020/2021 season! These cages are part of our oyster restoration work, supplementing wild oyster populations.
As part of this program, folks with access to docks along the Chesapeake Bay volunteer to host oyster cages containing oysters for approximately 9 months. At the beginning of the program, cages are delivered and hung from the docks of these volunteers. Volunteer growers are asked to check on their oysters every once in awhile and give them a shake to clean off any mud that may have settled on them. After the 9 months are up, usually at the beginning of summer, we come to collect those cages and plant the oysters that have been growing in them on wild oyster beds.
This year, we have just over 100 cages with growers throughout the Bay Hundred region. These growers have generously volunteered their time to take care of these oysters and some have even volunteered to help us collect data. In the past, we have had staff members visit a select number of sites to measure the oysters in certain cages. This data lets us track the survival rate and growth rate of the oysters over time and in different waterways, such as Broad Creek vs. Harris Creek. However, this process is time consuming for our staff and in the time of COVID-19, we don’t necessarily have the resources to collect monthly data.
For example, during the 2019/2020 growing season, we had 10 homes where we measured the oysters in a single cage. Including driving time and the actual time spent measuring oysters, it took approximately 14 hours per month to complete all 10 sites. As measuring is easier to do with two people, one to take the actual measurements and one to write them down, that means 28 hours of staff time to collect data each month. The financial burden of this just doesn’t make sense for us right now.
In addition, not everyone wants us coming to their home once a month to collect this data, especially during a global pandemic. By having our volunteer growers collect the data themselves, they get to participate in citizen science, support oyster restoration, and get a more hands on experience with oyster growing, in addition to saving us the financial burden of collecting this data ourselves. We are excited to try out this new data collection program and we plan to send out updates to our growers and in our newsletter about how the oysters are doing. Growing oysters should be fun and enjoyable and we hope that our volunteers will be more engaged with this new program. It is also voluntary, so those that are unable to commit to monthly oyster measurements don’t have to participate in this new program; they can continue to simply host oysters. If you are interested in joining this program, we are always building our list of volunteer growers for the next season. For more information or details on how to sign up, please visit https://phillipswharf.org/help/oyster-restoration/