|a natural oyster reef|
Steve Giordano, a biologist with the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office’s Habitat Assessment Team, piloted Potawaugh to Harris Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake on Maryland’s eastern shore that is the site of the largest oyster restoration project in the Bay. Biologists hope that the 377 acre site will soon be home to a self-sustaining population of Crassostrea virginica, the species of oyster that once filled the Chesapeake with vast, layered reefs so great that their peaks emerged from the water at low tide like small Pacific volcanoes.
Only about 1 percent of that historic oyster population remains, the rest having succumbed to centuries of overharvesting, pollution, and disease. Today, the bottom of the Chesapeake is mostly mud, and this presents a challenge to restoration ecologists. You build an artificial reef by dropping millions of cubic yards of hard substrate into the water. But put that material down in mud and it will settle into the bottom and disappear.