Maryland approves oyster-reef restoration plan

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Maryland is moving forward with a plan to restore native oyster reefs in Chesapeake Bay, a move that new studies show will naturally clean up the waterways.

On Wednesday, Gov. Martin O’Malley and the state Board of Public Works approved a $31 million plan to restore 371 acres of oyster bars along the bottom of Harris Creek in Talbot County, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources website.

The natural resources department created the Harris Creek Sanctuary under O’Malley’s 10-point Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. The plan was adopted in 2009 to enhance oyster restoration for ecological purposes and encourage the development of aquaculture businesses while continuing to support a more targeted and sustainable public oyster fishery.

Since then, Maryland has significantly increased its network of oyster sanctuaries — from 9 percent to 24 percent of the remaining quality habitat; increased areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamlined the permitting process; and identified areas off limits to leasing to support a more targeted, sustainable and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

Under O’Malley’s leadership, Maryland is providing $21 million for the Harris Creek project, with the Army Corps of Engineers and NOAA contributing $7.4 million and $4 million, respectively.

A new study showed that a reef seeded by oysters removed 20 times more nitrogen pollution from material such as home lawn and farm fertilizer in one year than a nearby site that had not been seeded.

Lisa Kellogg, a researcher for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science who led the 4-year study, told news outlets that oyster reefs potentially could remove nearly half of the nitrogen pollution from the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A wider restoration could help clean Chesapeake Bay, where the Choptank and other major rivers drain.

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