LETTER: Oyster Restoration Group to Expand into St. Mary's Co. - Southern Maryland Headline News

LETTER: Oyster Restoration Group to Expand into St. Mary's Co.


The Southern Maryland Oyster Cultivation Society (SMOCS) is a grassroots organization founded in 2007 with the goal of restoring oysters to local creeks.

Why local creeks you may ask? With a smaller body of water, the neighborhood can easily mount an effort to put out enough oysters to make a noticeable difference. For example, a creek with a surface area of 100 acres and an average depth 4 feet contains about 130 million gallons of water. Oysters are filter feeders and a three-inch oyster can filter up to 55 gallons of water per day so if the creek residents can muster 338,500 oysters, they can filter the entire creek once a week and get a significant improvement in water quality.

That sounds like a lot of oysters but it's fairly easy to accomplish. SMOCS employs a floating rotary mesh drum filled with as many as 5,000 spat (baby oysters) on shell. The drum is affixed to the pier and has a weight and escapement mechanism keeps the drum and spat relatively free of marine growth by rotating the drum automatically as the tide changes. No work for the homeowner. When the oysters are a year old they are better able to withstand predators so the residents transfer them to a suitable site in the creek and refill the drum with new spat on shell provided by Maryland.

Each resident buys the drums although SMOCS also participates in the Marylanders Grow Oysters (MGO) program and can provide waterfront residents smaller cages filled with 200 to 300 spat that are suspended from the pier. Typically, we provide 4 of these MGO cages per dock. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) provides the cages and spat free, but residents need to maintain them every two weeks or so to prevent fouling from algae.

The real advantage of participating in the SMOCS oyster gardening program is that we make every effort to keep the oysters that people raise at their dock in their creek. That way they are likely to benefit directly from the restoration of local oyster habitats.

SMOCS has been active in Calvert County with oyster reefs in 6 creeks and, overall, planted about 500,000 oysters in 2010. There are now 6 Saint Mary's county members in the California and Hollywood areas but we are looking to enroll many more members in order to increase the number of oysters on our planting sites. SMOCS has established its first Saint Mary's oyster reef in the lower Patuxent and is looking to expand both the size of that site as well as branch out into other St. Mary's creeks.

SMOCS pays for oyster shell to prepare the sites for oyster planting and also pays for the barge services to deposit that shell through member dues and corporate grants so consider joining by going to smocs.org and sending in your tax-deductible contribution. There is no paid staff so you know that your dues go completely to program support.

Robert Willey
California, Md.
Member, Board of Directors, SMOCS

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