Baby oyster planting extends hope for renewed population

By John Dodge, October 3, 2006


Photo by Steven M. Herppich/The Olympian

Polly Hicks transports a bag of oysters to be spread on the beach in front of Ecology director Jay Manning's home on Monday. In the past few years, several of Manning's neighbors also have offered their land for Olympia oyster recovery.

More than 250,000 baby Olympia oysters clinging to empty Pacific oyster shells were scattered on the beaches of Budd Inlet's Tykle Cove Monday as part of an ongoing effort to restore populations of the tiny native oyster to Puget Sound.

Many of the oysters in the year ahead will succumb to predators, the weather and competition for space on the shell, noted Puget Sound Restoration Fund employee Brian Allen.

But thousands of Olympia oysters from Monday's planting are likely to survive long enough - three years or so - to spawn more oysters to carry on the recovery work naturally.

Monday's project was a celebration of the 10-year effort to bring the once abundant oyster back to its rightful place in the ecosystem, said Betsy Peabody, executive director of the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a non-profit group that has planted about 7 million Olympia oysters in Puget Sound in the past 10 years.

From the 1920s to the 1960s, the Olympia oyster was nearly driven to extinction by overharvest, habitat loss and pollution.

The oysters planted Monday won't be available for harvest because Budd Inlet is closed to shellfish harvesting.

But the little filter feeders could help remove nutrients from the water, reducing the frequency of algal blooms that lead to low dissolved oxygen levels that are harmful to marine life.

"I'm excited - we're helping to purify the water," said Tykle Cove resident Barbara Hamblen, who first volunteered her beach for an Olympia oyster planting in 2002.

Hamblen has since been joined by several other neighbors, including state Department of Ecology director Jay Manning, who have offered much of the tidelands in the cove for Olympia oyster recovery.

The larger project grew out of a South Sound forum in Olympia last spring where community leaders brainstormed ideas for restoring the marine environment.

A massive planting of shellfish to reduce nutrient levels in Budd Inlet was one of the ideas kicked around.


Photo by Steven M. Herppich/The Olympian

Tristan Peter-Contesse, with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund, mwasures a juvenile oyster. If the oyster survives three years, it can help carry on recovery naturally.

"The forum really got me thinking about the importance of people connecting to their own piece of Puget Sound," Manning said.

"Habitat restoration begins in your own backyard," agreed Pat Montanio, director of habitat conservation for NOAA Fisheries.

In the past 10 years, Montanio said her agency's community-based restoration program has awarded about $4.2 million for habitat conservation work in Washington state to restore 680 acres of habitat, preserve 400 acres and reopen 90 miles of stream habitat to fish.

The Washington D.C.-based Montanio and a contingent of NOAA Fisheries employees from the agency's Seattle office were at Tykle Cove Monday morning to help with the planting and recognize the Puget Sound Restoration Fund for its work.

Health Department reopens some sites

The state Health Department has reopened oyster harvesting in several areas that were closed in July because of a bacterial outbreak.

Samish Bay, Quilcene Bay, Mystery Bay, Annas Bay and certain growing areas along Hood Canal are now open for commercial harvesting under special guidelines.

Oyster harvesting remains closed for recreational beaches and commercial growing areas in most of Hood Canal, Port Gamble, Dabob Bay, Oakland Bay, Skookum Inlet, Hammersley Inlet and Totten Inlet.

Closed areas won't be reopened until two consecutive oyster samples are free of vibrio parahaemolyticus, naturally occurring bacteria that can cause an illness called vibriosis in people who eat raw oysters.

The Associated press

John Dodge is a senior reporter and Sunday columnist for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or jdodge@theolympian.com.