There’s no place like home, but that is no longer the case for at least 60 cages’ worth of oysters from Port Covington Marina.

For nearly a year, the oysters have been growing along the docks as part of an effort through the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to produce more of the natural water filters.

These oysters were supposed to join millions of others at reefs surrounding Fort Carroll in the Patapsco River, but those plans were derailed because of the collapse of the Key Bridge. The abandoned fort sits within feet of the bridge and the safety zone of the salvage efforts, so the oysters from the marina are off to a sanctuary in the Magothy River, north of Annapolis.

Kellie Fiala, the Maryland oyster restoration coordinator at the foundation, said they were out at the reef at Fort Carroll a day before the bridge collapsed. The reef seemed to be in good health, and there may have been signs of reproduction. One concern is that, with the bridge collapse, sediment along the bottom of the water may have been disrupted and could cover the oysters.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Volunteers from Flywheel Digital stand by the baby oysters they’ve collected after a volunteer event with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, at the Port Covington Marina on Friday, May 10, 2024 in Baltimore, MD. (Wesley Lapointe / for The Baltimore Banner)
Volunteers from Flywheel Digital stand by the baby oysters they’ve collected after a volunteer event with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation at Port Covington Marina on Friday. (Wesley Lapointe/The Baltimore Banner)

“Once they lift the restricted area, we’ll take our ROV [remotely operated vehicle] out there and be able to actually go down and see what the oysters look like,” Fiala said.

It might not look like it from the surface, but there are two reefs filled with millions of oysters along the borders of Fort Carroll. The first reef was placed in 1995 and another added years later. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and partner organizations surpassed a goal of placing 5 million oysters in the reefs. The foundation is also part of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, which has a goal to add 10 billion oysters to Virginia and Maryland waters by 2025.

One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, and they’re seen as a great benefit to improving the Chesapeake Bay’s health, according to Fiala.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and volunteers from Flywheel Digital, an internet marketing service, withstood the wind and rain to retrieve the cages of oysters from the docks Friday. Each cage, which the foundation also builds in house, can fit a little over 100 oyster shells. Baby oysters were placed on the shells last September, and there are plans to open a larger oyster gardening location at the Lighthouse Point marina.

Though the cages were meant for the oysters, other critters hitched a free ride to the surface. A few mud crabs, a couple of eels and at least one small grass shrimp made a debut. The last Fiala called “the french fry of the bay” because of how much they’re eaten by other animals in the water.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

A grass shrimp was found during the collection of baby oysters during a volunteer event with Flywheel Digital and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, at the Port Covington Marina on Friday, May 10, 2024 in Baltimore, MD. (Wesley Lapointe / for The Baltimore Banner)
A grass shrimp was found during the collection of baby oysters during a volunteer event with Flywheel Digital and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. (Wesley Lapointe/The Baltimore Banner)

Christina Gambino and Greg Sylvia, Flywheel Digital employees and volunteers at the event, were surprised by how much was harvested and pulled up from the cages.

“The amount of life just on the oysters, in addition to what they’re doing to preserve them, it’s pretty impressive,” Sylvia said.

The oysters were hauled into a large truck to be transported to the sanctuary reef. Thanks to a shell-recycling service through the foundation, this cycle can repeat at different oyster gardening events and locations. Dan Johannes, an oyster restoration coordinator with the foundation, is tasked with retrieving recycled shells used for gardening oysters.

Buckets of spat- or baby oysters- are ready to be transported to an oyster sanctuary in the Magothy River, north of Annapolis, after a volunteer event with Flywheel Digital and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, at the Port Covington Marina on Friday, May 10, 2024 in Baltimore, MD. (Wesley Lapointe / for The Baltimore Banner)
Buckets of spat — or baby oysters — are ready to be transported to an oyster sanctuary in the Magothy River, north of Annapolis. (Wesley Lapointe/The Baltimore Banner)

One walk-up location exists at the Baltimore Museum of Industry in Locust Point, and the foundation works with restaurants and those hosting oyster roasts to collect them. Johannes estimates that at least 2,500 bushels of shells are collected each year to be cleaned and used for the placement of baby oysters.

“Volunteers basically run the program. Without them, I couldn’t do half the work,” Johannes said.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Individual households can take part in the oyster gardening program. People can grow oysters alongside their docks, and the foundation picks up the adult oysters and places them in sanctuary reefs.

There are 300 oyster gardeners throughout Maryland, according to Fiala. Gambino is one of them, and she values the chance to contribute.

“I think it’s just the experience knowing that you’re kind of giving back and trying to bring back the waterway and the watershed and just trying to preserve it for my daughter when she’s older and all. To me, that’s what’s important,” Gambino said.

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall is a neighborhood and community reporter at the Baltimore Banner, covering the people, challenges, and solutions within West Baltimore. Have a tip about something happening in your community? Taco recommendations? Call or text Jasmine at 443-608-8983.

More From The Banner