Oysters growing on larger shells at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Middletown N.J. Coastal communities around the world are planting oyster reefs to protect shorelines against the damaging effects of waves during storms, including the Navy pier that suffered $50 million worth of damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Oysters growing on larger shells at the Earle Naval Weapons Station in Middletown N.J. Coastal communities around the world are planting oyster reefs to protect shorelines against the damaging effects of waves during storms, including the Navy pier that suffered $50 million worth of damage during Superstorm Sandy in 2012. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Military turns to oyster reefs to protect against storms

MIDDLETOWN, N.J. — Earle Naval Weapons Station, where the Navy loads some of America’s most sophisticated weapons onto warships, suffered $50 million worth of damage in Superstorm Sandy. Now the naval pier is fortifying itself with some decidedly low-tech protection: oysters.

The facility has allowed an environmental group to plant nearly a mile of oyster reefs about a quarter-mile off its shoreline to serve as a natural buffer to storm-driven wave damage.

Other military bases are enlisting the help of oysters, too. In June, environmental groups and airmen established a reef in the waters of Elgin Air Force Base Reservation in Florida, and more are planned nearby. Oysters also help protect Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.

Three oyster reefs protect the USS Laffey museum in South Carolina. And military installations in Alabama and North Carolina have dispatched their enlisted personnel to help build oyster reefs in off-base coastal sites.

They are among hundreds of places around the U.S. and the world where oyster reefs are being planted primarily as storm-protection measures. And a bill just introduced in Congress would give coastal communities $100 million over the next five years to create “living shorelines” that include oyster reefs.

“Having a hardened structure like that oyster reef will absorb some of that wave energy,” said Earle spokesman Bill Addison. “All the pipes and cables that are on the pier now, all of that was washed away and had to be rebuilt. And there was a lot of flooding that came into the base. Will this protect us against all of that? No, but it will do a significant amount of good to protect the base and the complex and our surrounding communities.”

The NY/NJ Baykeeper group has been experimenting with oysters at the Navy pier since 2011, originally as a way to see if the shellfish, through their natural filtering ability, might help improve water quality in the murky Raritan Bay. (They did somewhat.)

In summer 2016, the group planted the oyster reef primarily as a storm protection measure — a trend that has taken hold around the world within the past decade or so, according to Bryan DeAngelis, a program co-ordinator for The Nature Conservancy in Rhode Island. Every coastal state in America is using oyster reefs as either a combination storm-protection or a water improvement project, or both.

In addition to cleaning the water, the oyster reefs help blunt the force of incoming waves.

“They are nice speed bumps,” said Meredith Comi, an official with the Baykeeper group.

Environmentalists say “living shorelines” including oyster colonies are far preferable to, and cheaper than, armouring the coast with steel seas walls or wooden bulkheads that invariably accelerate erosion of the sand in front of such manmade structures.

“Waves are affected by the roughness of the bottom,” said Boze Hancock, a marine restoration scientist with The Nature Conservancy who has studied and participated in oyster projects around the world. “Picture a wave trying to roll over a huge sponge, compared to one rolling over an asphalt parking lot. The ‘sponge,’ or rough, uneven oyster reef, sucks the energy out of the wave as it rolls toward the shore.”

U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey Democrat, recently introduced The Living Shorelines Act, which would make coastal communities eligible for $100 million over five years in federal grants for oyster reefs and wetlands plants. Its prospects remain uncertain in the Republican-controlled Congress.

In most spots, the oysters are designed not to be harvested and eaten. But in other places, including New Jersey, the oysters have been planted in polluted waterways where shellfish harvesting is prohibited, leading to concerns about poachers stealing them and sickening customers.

Such a dispute forced Baykeeper to rip out an oyster reef it planted a few miles from the Navy pier and relocate the shellfish to waters near the pier that are patrolled by gun-toting boats.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The future of Westerner Park continues to be plagued by many unknowns, including when city council will make a decision about financing its operations. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Red Deer city council delays making decision on Westerner Park financing

It will mean missing the next opportunity to apply for a provincial loan

Nineteen-year-old Amanda enjoys a ride during a visit to Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler. photo submitted
Busy days at Spirit’s Respite Ranch near Stettler

The ranch, which launched operations last summer, provides support through animal interaction

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer at the announcement that the city will be getting a drug treatment court Thursday. Jason Luan, associate minister of mental health and addictions, looks on.
Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Veer concerned about rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

The City of Red Deer is reminding citizens to protect themselves against… Continue reading

Rode
Volunteering played major role in RDC awards

Under normal circumstances, the RDC Red Deer Bottling Athlete of the Year… Continue reading

Alberta chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that the province has seen its first case of the B.1.617 variant. (Photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer nears record number of active COVID-19 cases

Alberta reports 1,857 new cases of COVID-19, 1,326 new variants

Curtis Labelle (second from left) and his band are planning a cross-Canada tour in 2022. Meanwhile, Labelle is continuing to host his weekly livestreamed talk show, Chattin 88. (Contributed photo).
Red Deer rock pianist takes on a talk show role

Curtis Labelle’s Chattin 88 gets views from around the globe

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady passes under pressure from Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 55 football game, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. Lawmakers are debating legislation to legalize single-event betting as a bill reaches final reading in the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mark Humphrey
Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Bill on single-game sports betting on cusp of passing — but not for first time

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland holds a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

More supply needed to ease housing price crunch, but always more to do, Freeland says

Letisha Reimer is shown in a photo, part of a memorial to her outside Abbotsford Senior Secondary School in Abbotsford, B.C., Monday, Nov.7, 2016. A B.C. Supreme Court judge is expected to deliver her decision today over whether a man who stabbed two high school students is not criminally responsible because he had a mental disorder. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Geordon Omand
Man who stabbed two students in Abbotsford, B.C., found criminally responsible

Man who stabbed two students in Abbotsford, B.C., found criminally responsible

Light from the sunset hits the skyline in Toronto, Ont., on Tuesday October 31, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Hate crimes jumped 51 per cent in part spurred by pandemic, Toronto police report

Hate crimes jumped 51 per cent in part spurred by pandemic, Toronto police report

A passenger from Air India flight 187 from New Delhi arrives at Pearson Airport in Toronto on Wednesday April 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canada to suspend flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days

Canada to suspend flights from India and Pakistan for 30 days

Inter Pipeline's Heartland Petrochemical Complex in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. is shown in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Inter Pipeline *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Hostile takeover target Inter Pipeline reports 60% of Heartland plant is contracted

Hostile takeover target Inter Pipeline reports 60% of Heartland plant is contracted

Smoke pours from the stacks at the Portlands Energy Centre in Toronto on Thursday January 15, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

Risk experts say climate change to take big chunk of Canadian economy by 2050

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40 to 45 per cent by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Most Read