The latest oyster planting will put a population in an area of the Severn River that hasn't had oysters for years. Photo: Oyster Recovery Partnership

30 Million More Oysters Planted in Severn River, Bringing Total to 115 Million

For the fourth year in a row, the Severn River has received an influx of millions of baby oysters on its reefs.

This week the Severn River Association and the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) planted 30 million juvenile oysters, grown up from tiny larvae and attached to old oyster shells recycled by ORP and its partners.

Through the Operation Build-a-Reef program, ORP and the Severn River Association (SRA) have planted more than 115 million oysters on sanctuary reefs in the Severn since 2018.

Oyster restoration is an excellent stepping-stone to a healthy Chesapeake Bay because oysters serve not one, but two important purposes. They serve as filters, pulling harmful pollution out of the water. And their reefs provide habitat for other marine species like crabs and rockfish, both of whose populations have struggled recently.

“Restoring oyster populations in the river is a critical component of our restoration strategy, and this planting will install a considerable population of oysters to an area of the river that hasn’t had them for decades,” says Jesse Iliff, executive director of the Severn River Association. “With each planting like this, we come closer to realizing our vision of a thriving Severn River.”

Operation Build-a-Reef relies on community support for funding. Maryland jewelry company Smyth Jewelers sponsors Build-a-Reef efforts Baywide. At the company’s Annapolis, Timonium, and Ellicott City locations, 1,000 oysters will be planted for every engagement ring sold this season.

“The Chesapeake watershed is an integral part of our beloved Maryland’s future, and we are honored to help with this cause,” says Bob Yanega, chief financial officer of Smyth Jewelers. “We hope to help ORP accomplish its mission of oyster restoration in the region again this year.”

Operation Build-a-Reef is just one of the programs contributing to a federal-state oyster recovery plan. In 2014, the Chesapeake Bay Program committed to restore oyster populations in 10 Bay tributaries by 2025—five in Virginia and five in Maryland. ORP is heading up those efforts in Maryland and are partway through that process.

Nearly 10 billion juvenile oysters have been planted on public and sanctuary reefs so far.

-Meg Walburn Viviano