This Aug. 3 story from the New York Times just crossed my path. I’m hoping you haven’t seen it, either. It’s a hopeful tale about the Chesapeake Bay and its long-suffering native oyster population.

Reporter Henry Fountain writes that large experimental reefs, designed by researchers at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary, are now home to 180 million oysters at the mouth of the Great Wicomico River. Just as encouraging is the survival rate, which hovered around 30 percent in the first year of the study, much higher than previous attempts to restock the bay with oysters.

The difference? Fountain reports that:

A key to the success of the new reefs, Mr. Schulte said, is their height and extent. The reefs, which were created by the United States Army Corps of Engineers by dumping oyster shells, are 10 to 18 inches high and cover more than 80 acres, with the largest about 20 acres.

In earlier restoration efforts, most of the reefs were lower, so the oysters had to cope with stirred-up sediment. Oysters are filter feeders, and filtering out sediment expends energy they could use for growth and makes them more susceptible to disease. Having the shellfish higher in the water column — they tend to grow on top of the reef, in thick layers — appears to keep them healthier.

Most of the earlier reefs were also smaller, usually about an acre in size. Mr. Travelstead said the new effort had shown that “it’s not just build it higher, but build it larger and inundate it with healthy broodstock that is showing some signs of disease resistance.”

This is encouraging news on multiple fronts, but personally, I hope it means that authorities will bag the idea of adding Asian oysters to the bay.

Photo by T o n y via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License