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Living Shorelines: Design Options - Oyster Reef

Restoration of the native oyster and oyster shell reefs is a popular effort in the Chesapeake Bay region. Oyster shell reefs have been used in living shoreline projects as a substitute for stone sills or in addition to hybrid structures to increase habitat diversity. Unfortunately, loose oyster shell is not very effective for reducing wave energy. Bagged shell is more sustainable, but incidental effects on wading birds and other wildlife are not well understood.

Suitable Sites

  • Very low energy settings with very minor erosion

  • Evidence of healthy native oyster population, oyster strike on fixed structures

  • Hard sand bottom will result in less settling and siltation over the reef than muddy sediments

  • Access for monitoring and maintenance should be available

Guidelines for Oyster Reef

  • Only clean, sun-dried oyster shell should be used either loose or in bio-degradable bags

  • Loose shell or bags can be placed in the intertidal area and/or below mean low tide

  • Shell bags may need to be anchored into place, especially if they are stacked or if there is any threat of waves overtopping the structure

  • Routine monitoring of the oyster shell arrangement and adjacent upland bank erosion will track the effectiveness of this approach

  • Contact the Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (TOGA) for more information about growing native oysters at your property.

oyster shells and fiber logs in a living shoreline project

This living shoreline project included (from left to right) minor bank grading, a planted tidal marsh, oyster shell sill, and stacked fiber logs.  The level of shoreline protection and tidal marsh-oyster reef habitat services will depend on the wave climate at this location.    
Photo by J. Bradshaw

Oyster shells

Loose oyster shell is not resistant to wave action and can be easily scattered.  It is also quickly covered with fine-grained silt in some locations, which compromises the habitat value for oyster spat attachment. Photo by K. Duhring

Bagged shells

Putting loose oyster shell in bio-degradable bags is another approach to reduce settling, scattering and siltation of the shell reef.   Bagged oyster shell reefs should be carefully monitored and broken bags removed from the marine environment.  Photo by K.Duhring


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bagged shell Oyster shell and fiber logs