Fossils may help revive Bay oyster population

Million-year-old fossilized oyster shells like this will become part of the habitat for baby oysters (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)

BALTIMORE – Tons of fossils from Florida may hold a key to reviving the local oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

“I’m holding fossiilized oyster shells – these are about a million years old,” says David O’Neill, vice president for conservation with The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which orchestrated a parternship wtih CSX to transport the shells from a Florida quarry to Maryland.

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley displayed 2,750 tons of fossilized oyster shells in a barge, at a ceremony at the Port of Baltimore.

While oysters used to be plentiful in the Chesapeake Bay, disease and over- harvesting decimated the oyster population, and the shells which provide a healthy habitat.

“The Bay, over long periods of time has silted over,” says O’Neill. “A lot of the oyster shell is buried by sediment or has been removed for road construction over decades and decades.”

Under the agreement, CSX will transport 112,500 tons of the fossilized shell by train – at cost – to Maryland.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joe Gill says the shells will be put to good use.

“They have been transported from Florida. They will now move from barge to Harris Creek, the site of a 377-acre sanctuary, where we are undertaking the largest oyster restoration project on the east coast ever done before,” says Gill.

In the first few weeks of life, oyster larva attaches to a hard substrate, or surface area, often in the form of dock pilings and natural rocks. A large number of oysters gathered in the same area become an oyster reef or oyster bed.

“They’ll grow into full oysters and be harvested for human consumption, somewhere down the road,” says Gill.

O’Neill says it is only fitting remnants that existed before the Bay’s oyster explosion will help in the future.

“This fossilized shell will go back into the water and breathe new live into oyster recovery efforts in the Chesapeake Bay,” says O’Neill.

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