The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is now recruiting interested individuals for its Oyster Gardening Program, a restoration effort that brings scientists and residents together to restore local American oysters in the Inland Bays.

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Local residents with docks and bulkheads on the Inland Bays can volunteer to become oyster gardeners, helping raise spat for about a year, with the resulting oysters to be used for research and restoration.

The program began in 2003 and works with residents to raise small amounts of oysters in the waters of the Inland Bays surrounding their docks and bulkheads. The CIB offers the training, guidance and supplies needed, while participants care for the oysters for about one year. The CIB then collects the 1-year-old oysters for use in various restoration or research projects throughout the Inland Bays. (These oysters are not intended for consumption.)

“The Center’s Oyster Gardening Program is an excellent example of how partnerships between local environmental organizations and residents can lead to positive impacts in the natural areas that we all love and enjoy,” said Nivette Pérez-Pérez, the Center’s project manager.

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Oyster gardeners raise baby oysters (called spat) for about a year, with the resulting oysters to be used for research and restoration.

Oysters have the unique power to improve water quality as they eat. By filtering algae and other particles from the water, they also remove excess nutrients that pollute the bays. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water each day. As they grow, oysters solidly attach to each other, creating reefs that serve as shelter and spawning areas for organisms such as blue crabs and recreationally important fish, such as summer flounder and black sea bass.

To be an oyster gardener, volunteers should be able to lift about 25 pounds; own or have access to a private, waterfront property on tidal waters (such as canals, creeks or bays); and possess basic computer skills. Gardeners are required to periodically clean the oysters and record all time spent using a simple online log. To learn more about the program, go to inlandbays.org/oyster-gardening.

Oysters and gear will be available to new gardeners in early July. A $50 annual program membership donation is requested in order to help cover the cost for oyster sets, spat, training and program maintenance.

To apply to be an oyster gardener, fill out an application at www.inlandbays.org/oystergardener.