Projects Aim to Restore 5,000 Acres of Shellfish Habitat in MA

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ecoRI.com: Shellfish offer some of the best remedies for the environmental problems confronting the state’s coastal areas. For example, poor water quality — often the result of nitrogen loads from failing septic systems, discharges from sewage treatment plants and/or the overuse of fertilizers — threatens coastline health, and shellfish can play a big part of the solution.

As it feeds, an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of seawater daily, according to Jon Kachmar, coastal director for The Nature Conservancy in Massachusetts. “Oysters are incredible filters,” he said during a late-March talk titled “Restoring Rivers and Estuaries, Native Fish and Shellfish” at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. “The ability of oysters to reduce nutrients is an important part of the picture, but we shouldn’t overemphasize it. But it certainly needs to be part of the discussion.”

Besides improving water quality by filtering impurities, oyster beds — and shellfish beds in general — provide important ecosystem and economic services, such as providing food and habitat for birds, finfish and other marine life, sustenance and recreation for people who harvest wild oysters, and coastline protection from waves and storm surge.

To help address coastal water-quality issues and better protect fragile coastal environments such as salt marshes and seagrass beds in Massachusetts, Kachmar is leading an ambitious initiative to restore native shellfish species, most notably oysters, and their habitat to some 5,000 acres.

The initiative began about 2 years ago with the collection of wild larval oysters, known as spat, in various coastal waters to determine natural recruitment. The effort’s goal is to restore 5,000 acres of native shellfish beds by 2050. Restoration projects are planned for the North Shore, South Shore, Boston, Buzzards Bay, and Cape Cod and the Islands, according to Kachmar.

Read more about the plans by The Nature Conservancy to restore 5,000 acres of coastal shellfish habitat in Massachusetts.