Oysters To The Rescue!

Keeping Our Fingers Crossed for a new MGO Season

by Havana Mullaly

I remember very distinctly the first time I went to the Severn River. I instantly wanted to jump into the refreshing blue water.

Oyster Growers Havana and Jack Mullaly

But as my toes began to meet the water’s edge, I was stopped and told that it was too dirty for swimming.

Baffled, my six-year-old self was annoyed at the fact that I wouldn’t get to swim.

I felt hopeless, thinking that I would only get to enjoy the river from afar. I didn’t understand how pollution and water quality could affect swimming conditions.

But  later in school I would learn how oysters could help create clean water so I could go swimming.

These tiny creatures are the solution because they can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, but their small numbers make this goal seem almost impossible.

Recently I have learned about Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO), a program run by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Oyster Recovery Partnership that has turned my hopes into a reality.

It’s an interactive program that allows for all Marylanders to become involved with creating a cleaner river by growing oysters and creating new homes for them on restored oyster reefs.

Havana and Jack Lower Oysters Into Severn River.

The process is simple. The MGO program offers free cages of oyster spat for volunteers to hang them off their docks.

Once the oysters grow an inch in length within the cages, they are then planted on a sanctuary reef.

Although oysters are no longer abundant in all parts of the bay (native populations are less than 1% of what they once were), there are many areas that are thriving. In fact, some areas in Maryland with oyster reefs have shown significant signs of improvement.

The Severn River Association became an MGO partner right away when it started in 2009 and started recruiting volunteers.

In the Severn River, the MGO oysters are planted on a reef dubbed Traces Hollow, which is located outside Winchester Pond just downriver from the Rt. 50 Bridge.

The effort to create the MGO program on the Severn River was led by Bob Whitcomb when he was president of the Severn River Association in 2009.

Prior to 2009, Bob had been passionate about restoring oysters as a keystone species by building marine sanctuaries. His immense knowledge on the topic allowed for work to begin immediately in the Severn.

The progress was astonishing, and by August 2009 the organization was able to obtain 1,250 cages. This remarkable feat proved how eager many Annapolitans were to help the river.

As time has passed, the Severn River has now become home to “over 2,000 MGO oyster cages.” The Severn River Association (SRA) is pleased with these amounts yet hope to have thousands more in order to clean the bay.

In fact, in order to clean the entire bay as a whole, 10 billion oysters are needed. The number may seem daunting, but with willing volunteers, the bay can become a safe and swimmable place yet again.

If you’d like to become an oyster grower, the process is quite simple. All that is needed is your own personal or community dock where you can hang the cages.

For more information about how you can help, click here.

SRA hopes to restart the MGO program in 2020 and distribute new spat and cages in September.