HIGHLANDS, N.J. (AP) — Researchers gathered enough data to learn that an oyster-restoration program wrecked by Superstorm Sandy will work, and they now have more than $16,000 from the Dave Matthews Band to help re-establish the research on a Navy pier.
The band, through its Bama Works Fund, gave the grant to the NY/NJ Baykeeper group, which will use it to rebuild and relocate an aquaculture building that was destroyed by the storm.
Meredith Comi, director of Baykeeper’s pilot project at the Earle Naval Weapons Station, said many nets holding the oysters were ripped from the pier during the storm.
“It’s a shame that what we had out there was damaged, but we really got what we needed from them,” she said. “The important thing is we know enough to move onto the next phase, and that’s what we’re ready to do.”
That would involve establishing colonies in other parts of Raritan Bay. But before that can happen, New Jersey environmental authorities must approve.
In 2010, the state Department of Environmental Protection ordered Baykeeper to destroy a thriving research colony in Keyport due to fears that poachers could steal oysters from the polluted waters and sell them, possibly introducing contamination into the marketplace and damage New Jersey’s $790 million shellfish industry.
So the group turned to the Navy, which allowed them to place the oysters at its station in Middletown, where a rigorously enforced security perimeter prevents any possibility of poaching.
Baykeeper grew the young oysters in 450 gallon tanks at a facility in Highlands. After the oysters have grown for about two months, they are ready for release onto newly established oyster beds around the region.
But that facility, like many buildings along the coast, took a pounding during the storm.
And the Navy pier, to which the transplanted oysters were tethered, also was damaged by Sandy, Comi said.
“We know that a lot of the nets are gone,” she said. “They got ripped off during the storm. A lot of the ropes aren’t attached to anything.”
Baykeeper has approval to plant oyster colonies on 10.7 acres in the waters nearest the pier. But because the research was so successful, documenting that the oysters can survive and thrive in the bay’s water, Baykeeper would like to move forward with its plan to establish colonies in other parts of the bay.
An oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. The idea is to re-establish colonies of the once-plentiful animal in the Raritan Bay to help improve its water quality.
The Dave Matthews Band financed the grant through a donation to the NJ Recovery Fund, one of several entities from which Baykeeper sought recovery money after the storm. Bama Works has contributed to charitable and community projects, many of them in the Charlottesville, Va., area, but also made donations to storm victims. Bama Works has made over 800 grants totaling $15 million since its inception in 1999.
Baykeeper is in the process of relocating its research building from Highlands to the Navy pier. The move should be done by the end of April, Comi said.
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