“We grow them here in the tanks until they are about the size of a quarter,” McCrone said, showing off the young oysters. “Then they’re transferred down to the reef. Historically, there had been a large population of oysters there. That’s how Oyster Point and the Oyster Point Hotel got their names.”
Oysters, once an integral part of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary system, play a key role in their environment. They are referred to as “bioengineers,” since their growth and accumulation provide a habitat for a broad community of aquatic life. They also play an important part in keeping bay water clean, as one adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
Decades ago, vast numbers of oysters with names like Amboys, Shrewsburies and Navesink Goldens were harvested across 350 miles of oyster beds stretching from New Jersey to New York. Disease, pollution and, to some degree, overharvesting created a severe decline in that population, impacting not only the oyster industry, but also the health of the estuary system.
It is hoped the Baykeeper project and other similar restoration efforts can reverse that trend.
“This year, for the first time since we’ve been doing this in the Navesink, we are seeing natural oysters occurring there beyond what we’re putting there,” McCrone said. “Once they’re on the reef, we monitor them once a month to see how they’re doing.”
LEFT: Young oysters on clam shell substrate. RIGHT: A bayman loads bags of young oysters for a trip to the Navesink River oyster reef, where they will continue growing.