Oyster Conservationist Program, New Hampshire

Great Bay Estuary, New Hampshire

Funded in Fy2022 through the FishAmerica Foundation.

The eastern oyster is an important keystone species in the Great Bay Estuary. Historically, Great Bay Estuary was filled with acres of healthy oyster reef. However, due to pollution, disease, sedimentation, and historical overharvesting these numbers have decreased by over 90% resulting in only a little over 100 acres of oyster reef today. With this drastic loss of oyster reefs, Great Bay has experienced a similar loss in the important ecosystem services that oysters provide to estuarine ecosystems. For this reason, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) of New Hampshire has been working collaboratively with The University of New Hampshire’s Jackson Estuarine Laboratory to restore oyster reefs to Great Bay since 2009. Through the FishAmerica Foundation, ACFHP is helping to fund TNC’s Oyster Conservationist (OC) Program, an important community science and engagement component of oyster reef restoration in Great Bay.

An OC is a community member in the coastal area of New Hampshire who advocates or acts for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. Participants in the OC Program work towards improving the health of Great Bay by raising oyster spat for TNC’s oyster reef restoration projects. Volunteers adopt a cage with spat on shell for an eight-week period cleaning and caring for the cage while also collecting data throughout the summer on survival, growth, invasive species, and wild oyster spat settlement. In 2020, the OC program had participants at 61 sites and 70 sites in 2021 in New Hampshire. The data collected provides information on conditions for oyster growth, survival, and wild oyster spat settlement to inform future oyster restoration efforts in Great Bay Estuary.

As a citizen science community engagement program, a major goal of the OC Program is to create environmental stewards that advocate or act for the protection and preservation of the environment and wildlife. It has become an ingrained part of the New Hampshire coastal community for the past 15 years successfully connecting community members to this important estuarine system.

Text provided by TNC New Hampshire.