We gathered on Friday, Aug. 14, to see if anything had taken up residence on the reef we built off south Reed's Beach. Leading the first round of oyster abundance and biodiversity sampling was Dr. Christine Thompson, restoration scientist for the American Littoral Society. She met the restoration team during the outgoing tide, when the reef would be almost fully exposed.
The reef was created in April 2015 during our Shell-A-Bration. With the help of 140 volunteers, in partnership with Conserve Wildlife Foundation, tons of bagged whelk shell were used to build an inter-tidal reef. The reef was intended to serve several purposes, not least of which was to provide a natural habitat for oysters. It was also hoped that the reef would help reduce wave erosion of the beach, which had been restored by the society for horseshoe crabs and shorebirds following the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy.
Several randomly selected bags of whelk shell were pulled from sections of the reef and taken to the beach for further analysis. There we broke out the calipers and identification guides to see what -- if anything --was living on our oyster reef. It quickly became evident that the unique shape of the whelk shell made it a great starter home for all sorts of smaller creatures, including juvenile fish. Ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa), grass shrimp (Palaemonetes pugio), black and white fingered mud crabs (Panopeus herbstii, Rhithropanopeus harrisii), green crabs (Carcinus maenas), mud dog whelks (Ilyassoma obsolete), skilletfish (Gobiesox strumosus), and a variety of polychetes (Polychaeta) were found in and around the whelk shells. Encrusted on and inside the shells were barnacles (Cirripedia), bryozoans (Bryozoa), sea grapes (Molgula), slipper shells (Crepidula fornicata), and amphipods (Amphipoda).
Perhaps most important, we found baby oysters -- also known as spat. Many of the shells that were sampled had oyster spat ranging in size from 2mm-30mm. Once the creatures were identified, they -- along with their homes -- were returned to the Bay.
We plan to come back in two weeks to take another look at our marine-life condo complex on Delaware Bay. This was the first of six sampling events, which will be conducted through October.