Bay Basics


UMCES’ role in revitalizing an iconic Chesapeake Bay species

Oysters are an important component of the living ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. These tiny creatures have a big impact both on ecology and economics.

The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has been dedicated to protecting the species and helping it thrive in the Bay. Our Horn Point Laboratory is home to one of the largest oyster hatcheries on the East Coast. The oyster culture facility produces a variety of oyster larvae for use in research, restoration, and educational projects. Our scientists are experts in every aspect of oysters, from their biology to their role in our Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem

The importance of oysters:

  • They filter water. This Chesapeake vacuum cleaner removes plankton, algae, and other particles from the water column, resulting in cleaner water and a healthier environment for other Bay species. A single healthy oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day. In the process, they can remove excessive nitrogen and phosphorus pollution.
  • They create habitat. The presence of their shells creates a hard surface on the bottom of the Bay that offers a home to other bay organisms that depend on it to grow. Some examples include barnacles, mussels, and anemones. Oyster reefs also provide shelter and spawning areas for swimming species, as well as protection of shorelines from wave erosion.
  • They boost the economy. Oysters provide a market for food and a way of life for many watermen and aquaculturists of the Chesapeake Bay. They make a living off oysters, and their work brings oysters to your table at home or local restaurants. Some of those restaurants even recycle their shells so they can be reused for future oysters, bringing the process full circle.

Past, Present, Future

Through our oyster culture and research activities, our scientists are working to bring restore the once abundant the oyster populations. What happened to oysters in the Bay, what progress have we made, and where do we go from here? Find those answers and more:

  • LOOKING BACK: Learn the history of oysters in Chesapeake Bay and how time changed populations of this iconic species.
  • RAISING OYSTERS: Look behind the scenes of our oyster culture facility and learn how our scientists produce spat on shell.
  • STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: Learn about the partnership that makes oyster restoration possible.
  • RESEARCH HIGHLIGHTS: Get to know our oyster experts and how their work impacts Bay restoration.