The American Littoral Society's Operation Oyster got under way on Friday, June 2, with the aim of improving water quality in New Jersey's Two Rivers area.
The launch event focused on shell bags that will be hung from docks along the river. Those bags will then be monitored to determine if live oysters take up residence.
While the launch focused on the effort to find oysters in the Navesink River, Operation Oyster will involve much more than shell bags. The project will eventually include many partners -- including hotels and restaurants, local residents and area schools, businesses and foundations -- all intent on turning the Navesink and Shrewsbury back into rivers that are safe and clean.
Operation Oyster will also bring together a number of Littoral Society programs with the experience the organization has gained restoring reefs in Barnegat and Delaware Bay.
More than 60 residents and businesses have already signed on to host shell bags that will be hung from their docks along the Navesink. Among them are The Grove at Shrewsbury and Brook 35 Plaza, both managed by Metrovation. Jen Portman, of Synergy Yoga, is coordinating the enlistment of dock owners.
Many companies and private individuals have also signed up to sponsor bags, even if they don't have a dock on the rivers. Bag sponsorships start at $25 and help to defray the cost of material and monitoring.
The shell in those bags comes from the Littoral Society's "Shuck It, Don't Chuck It!" shell recycling program. The recycling program has been spearheaded by Doug Douty, owner of The Lusty Lobster seafood company in Highlands, NJ, and a Littoral Society trustee.
Baby oysters need calcium in order to grow their own shells and a hard surface on which to grow. Oyster shells provide both of those, making them a perfect foundation for new oysters. As a result, the oyster shell recycling program is a win-win for oyster lovers, businesses and the water in the Two River's estuary.
The "Shuck It, Don't Chuck It!" program is generously supported by The Lusty Lobster and a grant from the Marta Heflin Foundation. It was created as a way to reduce waste going to landfill and as an inexpensive method to obtain material for building oyster reefs.
Restaurants currently participating in the recycling program include The Oyster Point Hotel, Molly Pitcher Inn, Navesink Country Club, Rumson Country Club, Inlet Café, Woody’s Ocean Grille, The Tiger's Tale, 2nd Jetty Seafood, Taka, 26 West on the Navesink, Moby’s Lobster Deck, The Old Causeway, Mud City Crab House, Anchor Inn, The Shady Rest Restaurant, and EvenTide Grille. Two Rivers area restaurants that would like to participate in the shell recycling program should contact the Littoral Society at 732-291-0055.
Recycled shell must be cured for at least a year before it can be used for Operation Oyster. The National Park Service graciously provides secure space inside Gateway National Recreation Unit's Sandy Hook Unit for a curing site.
In the fall, Forrestdale School in Rumson, NJ will play a role with Operation Oyster, as students will learn about the history and ecology of the river in the classroom, then play a role in monitoring shell bags at nearby docks. The bags will be checked periodically to determine whether oysters or any other critters are calling them home. The education component is being funded through a grant from The Stone Foundation of New Jersey.
The long-term hope for Operation Oyster is re-establishment of oyster reefs in the Navesink and Shrewsbury rivers.
Oysters act as natural filters for the waters they inhabit. Each oyster can clean up to 50 gallons of water a day. That natural filtration not only removes suspended sediments and algae, which make the water clear, it also helps prevent algae blooms and low oxygen conditions -- which may be linked to recent fish die-off incidents in the river and last year's stinging jellyfish invasion.
The Littoral Society has years of experience working with restored and installed oyster reefs, based on experimental projects underway off Good Luck Point in Barnegat Bay and along beaches on the New Jersey side of Delaware Bay.
You too can play a role in Operation Oyster. Contact the American Littoral Society to learn how.
Dock owners who would like to participate in the Operation Oyster study should contact volunteer coordinator Jen Portman at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can sponsor a bag through the Littoral Society website or by contacting Laurie Bratone at Laurie@LittoralSociety.org.
For information about other ways you can become part of Operation Oyster, contact Pim Van Hemmen, Asst. Director of the American Littoral Society, at 732-291-0055 or email Pim@LittoralSociety.org.