Oyster Garden Checkup

We visited our oyster garden this week. It’s located on CR 1 in MaryAnn Beach area of Baldwin Co. We share oyster cleaning duties with several other families and this was our week.
So, what do we do?
First we pull up the 4 cages, which hang from the pier, from out of the water.  They’re usually coated with algae and barnacles, and the cages have been adopted by worms, snails, crabs and some small fish. We have to clean all of this off and out of each cage.

Algae coated oyster cages

So, we hose them down; a kind of power washing.

Hosing off the cages

Then we scrub the cages to remove the algae and scrap off the barnacles. This can take a long time and can use a lot of elbow grease.

Scrubbing the barnacles and algae off of the cages

The oysters are removed from the cages and hosed down and scrubbed, too.

Dirty oyster spat

Clean and enjoying the sunshine

Then we measure the spat that is growing on each shell in centimeters using calipers.

measuring the oyster spat

 Humorously the calipers have a message printed on them: “oysters rule”.
Also during this time, the cages that are cleaned have a chance to sit out in the sun which will dry out the cages, killing the remaining algae and barnacles.
We have 50 oyster shells with multiple spat attached. Sometime during the growing season a spat may detach and fall off so we don’t always end up with the original amount of spat we started with. Accidents do happen and once in a while, too, we’ll lose an oyster that slipped through the slats on the pier. We’ve only lost one so far this season.
After measuring and recording at least 25 random spat measurements, they go back into their cages which are hooked back up to the lines and tossed or pushed in.

Pushing the cages back in the bay

The whole process is fun work. It is enjoyable to go back and watch the oysters growing. With the amount of families that we have to help out, we each get 3 trips to the pier. And, with our time being spaced as it is we can really notice the difference in growth.
We are not scheduled to go back again until the end of October.
Monthly, we receive a newsletter from the Extension office about the reef restoration project and the oyster gardens. It always contains a chart of how our oysters are doing in comparison to other locations around the Mobile Bay. On average, our oysters, along with the other gardeners located on CR 1, are growing rapidly.