Wareham Department of Natural Resources shells out new oyster habitat

Sep 23, 2018

The Wareham Department of Natural Resources has been hard at work on the water these last two weeks creating new oyster habitats in Wareham, Fairhaven and Bourne to bolster the shellfish’s declining numbers.

The project follows three years worth of efforts by the department and neighboring departments to support and rejuvenate local species with help from the Massachusetts Nature Conservancy and the Buzzards Bay Coalition. Financial support for the project comes as part of a settlement from the 2003 Bouchard B-120 oil spill, which impacted nearly 100 miles of shoreline in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

According to Wareham Harbormaster Garry Buckminster, Wareham benefited significantly from the settlement receiving upwards of $200,000 for restoration efforts.

“We’ve been able to carry out a lot of different projects with money from the settlement benefiting our quahog and clam populations in addition to oysters,” he said.

To create oyster habitat, natural resource officers distribute several yards of surf clam shells in selected areas which in turn form reefs where oyster larvae can attach and grow. Additional larvae from hatcheries are also introduced to these areas to help bulk up wild numbers.

“People don’t tend to think much of oysters,” Buckminster said. “But they’re a living, working part of our economy struggling with predators, overfishing and disease.”

Buckminster added that other marine animals, such as crabs and small fish, will also take advantage of the reefs.

“It gives them a boost in a lot of different ways,” he said.

The process of constructing these reefs can be backbreaking work with officers hauling totes shell by hand.

To lighten the load, officials constructed a shell hopper with the help of the Wareham Municipal Maintenance Department which can deploy 6 to 8 yards of shell continuously. The hopper, which sits on top of a barge, uses the sander from an old dump truck to house and distribute shells.

“We were able to spread 200 yards of shell in Wareham and Bourne using the hopper,” Buckminster said. “And we did it in just four days.”

A total of three reefs have already been constructed across Wareham, Fairhaven and Bourne.

“It’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Buckminster said. “But I couldn’t ask for a better team of dedicated people.”