Living Reef Action Campaign

Living Reef Action Campaign

In an effort to restore oyster reef habitat while improving fishing opportunities for recreational fisherman in the Chesapeake Bay, Coastal Conservation Association’s (CCA’s) national marine habitat program, the Building Conservation Trust (BCT), have partnered with CCA Maryland, Lehigh Cement Co., Stevenson University, The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Maryland Artificial Reef Initiative (MARI) to build and deploy concrete reef balls all seeded with oyster spat to create new three dimensional reef structure for advancing restoration science

CCA Tilghman Island Reef

East and West End Coordinates of our Oyster Reef Site
East End: N 38•41.315′ W 76•22.757′
West End: N 38•41.318′ W 76•22.691′

CCA Tilghman Island Reef Site Poster

Recipient of

  • Maryland General Assembly Official Citation by Del Susan Krebs
  • Carroll Co. Environmental Advisory Council’s “Project of the Year” award
  • Maryland Recycling Network’s “Outstanding Environmental & Community Leadership” award

The Project has 4 key components:

 Oyster Restoration


A major component of this project is restoration of the wild, eastern oyster by recycling oyster shell, seeding the shell with new oyster larvae (spat), and then using the spat-on-shell to create a new oyster reef. There is a very limited amount of shell available for restoration, so it has become a very valuable commodity for Bay-wide ecological restoration. This project is unique and exciting because it is a grassroots volunteer effort that will restore nearly 3 million new oysters to the bay while creating much needed marine ecosystem through the building of a new three dimensional reef habitat.

Throughout 2015 and continuing in 2016, Volunteers have placed trash cans behind restaurants and bars that regularly serve oysters to their patrons. Our volunteers pick up these cans and replace with an empty can on a weekly basis. Shells are hauled to a central aggregation points at area landfills. When full, Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) replaces these dumpsters with an empty one, and hauls the shell to Cambridge, MD for curing and cleaning before the Oyster Hatchery at Horn Point MD seeds them with spat in special tanks.

Ecological Restoration of Three Dimensional Reef Habitat

image012Healthy three dimensional oyster reefs provide a unique and important habitat that harbors many aquatic marine plants and animals, which increase the overall estuarine productivity and species diversity. Barnacles, mussels, and bryozoans all lie flat against oyster shells, while sponges, anemones, and feathery hydroids all branch out into the water. When oysters and these other reef species feed in the currents, they filter water; remove algae, bacteria, and bits of decayed material, thus providing a valuable filtration service towards restoring estuaries. A single oyster can filter up to fifty (50) gallons of water per day. When Chesapeake oyster populations where at their high, they could filter the entire bay every couple days, now it takes more than a year to accomplish the same. It has been estimated the filtering ability of the bay’s once plentiful oyster reefs has diminished by 99% due to the diminished population. In addition, oysters remove excess nutrients (Nitrogen compounds) from the water column caused by watershed run off. The loss of these important ecological functions— sediment and excess nutrient removal through filtering and nutrient cycling, has resulted in nutrient pollution and the over abundance of algae and at times causing dead zones within the bay.

Educational Outreach & Community Engagement

image014The Living Reef Action Campaign aims to involve the community at the local level, bringing awareness to those who may not understand the important ecological services of restoring our oyster population and the creation of new three-dimensional reefs. The project is located in the historically agricultural communities of Maryland, where many citizens do not have a direct connection to the bay, even though they are located in a watershed community. The diverse partnerships leading this project demonstrate the power of collaboration between recreational fishermen, community groups, public & higher education agencies, environmental groups, and restoration organizations all aligning resources to achieve common goals.


image016Monitoring of the reef site will be conducted twice annually for three years, and possibly longer, to examine the relationship between oyster restoration and three dimensional reef habitat. Benthic images will be taken along randomly generated survey lines across the entire restoration site to provide coverage of both the artificial structure field and the loose spat on shell substrate spread among the reef structure field. Surveys will be conducted to capture oyster development, and presence/abundance of blue crabs, forage fish and striped bass. Fixed stations will track changes in oyster growth and changes in the benthic zone. Photo surveys will also be conducted just prior and just after the deployment of the reef material as a baseline. From the monitoring information, we can track: the reef inhabitants over time, spat recruitment that is naturally colonizing the new reef, Oyster growth, potential differences in habitat utilization by different life stages, and whether the three dimensional reef structure benefits oyster growth in comparison to spat on shell placement on the bay substrate as an oyster bed.

BCT and CCA Maryland have rolled out a number of other habitat initiatives in recent months, including the ongoing Living Reef Action Campaign project, which utilizes concrete Reef Balls to restore oyster reefs in the Chesapeake Bay while engaging thousands of school students across Maryland in STEM-related learning activities. BCT projects in other states include The Fripp Island Reef which involves several deck barges, armored personnel carriers and more than 200 concrete habitat modules, as well as the Fantasy Island Reef in Tampa Bay, which is enhancing oyster habitat and stabilizing roughly 700 feet of shoreline on the island.

For more information on CCA Maryland’s Central Region Chapter’s Living Reef Action Campaign efforts, Contact Ron Buffington at mailto:rbuffington@ccamd.orgor Michael Wissel at