Think you would like to grow your own oysters?
Try oyster gardening for a reef restoration program or for personal consumption.

Want to be part of something bigger?
Join or start an oyster reef restoration project.

Get involved - there are many ways to participate.
Check out the many sources of information online.

Illustration of wire oyster gardens suspended from a dock for oyster restoration
Illustration of floating oyster gardens in tidal waters for oyster restoration

Oyster Garden. Oyster gardens are grown on oyster shells in wire or mesh oyster cages suspended from a pier or other structure. Floating oyster gardens are grown in cages attached to a buoyant Taylor float.

Reef Restoration. Reefs are built of mesh or wire bagged oyster shells just beyond the low water mark. The shells get populated by naturally- occurring oyster spat or are pre-seeded with young oysters from a shellfish hatchery.

Coastal Restoration. Many states and conservation organizations have large-scale restoration projects that are revitalizing depleted reefs. There are many ways to participate.

Illustration of people restoring an oyster reef with mesh bags of seeded oyster shells
Illustration of large scale oyster restoration using a barge to build reefs with oyster shells

Oyster gardeners suspend or float their cages in places at least one foot deep at low water. Reefs are built where the oysters will remain submerged at low tide. The best sites for gardens and reefs are in waters with existing oyster populations or that historically supported oysters. A marine biologist, oyster farmer or other expert can help by assessing salinity, currents and other critical factors.

Oysters grow on other oysters, empty shells, fragments and stones. So you will need lots of high-quality substrate called cultch – a mix of oyster, clam and whelk shells as well as stones and other natural materials. Cultch recovered from nature and restaurants is cured outdoors for at least 6 months. Cured cultch is washed and either taken to the hatchery for seeding or packed in mesh reef bags as substrate. Your oysters should be in a place where you can maintain and monitor them year-around. Make sure you have permission to use the site and check permitting or other regulatory requirements.

Shellfish programs often provide equipment, instruction and other resources to gardeners and reef restorers. You can also purchase what you need or build your own oyster cages. Oyster gardeners can work alone or with partners. Reef and coastal restoration demands a team to build cages, process cultch, pack mesh bags and build reefs. Team members also monitor and maintain reefs.