Divers Find Plenty Of Life On Budding Oyster Reefs

Published: May 17, 2019

There is great news from the bottom of the Severn River! Your baby oysters are alive and well on the oyster reefs that are being restored between the Rt. 50 and USNA Bridges!

The good news comes from scuba diver Audrey McDowell with the University of Maryland’s Paynter Lab. When we needed a volunteer to take a look at our oysters, Audrey instantly raised her hand and recruited her pal Joshua Dykman to help out.


The Virginia RailHosting the team on April 23 was Captain Chester Bartells on his 31-ft. wooden deadrise, The Virginia Rail. Serving as First Mate was Christian Bartells.

That’s Joshua, Christan, Chester and Audrey on the left.

The Bartells also served as backup divers for Audrey and Joshua, who journeyed to the bottom of the river – that’s 12 to 18 feet down where it is too dark to see.

Audrey has to feel her way along the bottom of the four reefs we visited.

Survival rates of the oyster spat-on-shell planted during last year’s Operation Build-A-Reef are doing just fine, despite some adverse conditions brought on by last year’s record rainfall.

Here are some pics of oysters sample from the Operation Build-A-Reef plantings last year:

Take note of the edges of the oyster shell, those brown circular areas are the one-year-old spat planted during the July 2018 Operation Build-A-Reef operation.

They’re alive!

The good news is that the oysters are surviving well at the bottom of the Severn River in 12 to 18 feet of water.  They are on the small side due to the low oxygen and low salinity in the Severn River from all the rain last year, but they are alive and ready to grow into mature oysters and start filtering the Severn River.

And, more good news, the oysters planted every June by our volunteer oyster growers in the Marylanders Grow Oyster (MGO) program are also thriving. Audrey brought up samples from the MGO reef that are six, seven and perhaps eight years old!

Check out these pics from the MGO reef:


A good looking sample of MGO oysters forming a reef

Audrey McDowell holds 6-8 year-old oysters forming a reef.

Measuring success! A five-inch long oyster.

Oyster spat on a shell from bottom of Severn River.