Many river-front property owners are beginning to understand the important role a shoreline plays in the health of a river system. Wetland grasses provide habitat for birds and aquatic creatures, while taking up harmful pollutants that threaten to enter our river’s waters. Marsh sills and rock revetments are hydro-dynamically designed to reduce wave energy and trap harmful sediments that can block out the sunlight for aquatic grasses and smother the critical benthic population struggling to inhabit our river’s bottom.

In an effort to preserve and protect of our waters, Ready Reef Inc. proprietors Chris and Ed Davis have taken the wetland restoration a step further, designing structures sturdy enough to withstand powerful wave energy while providing the perfect substrate to start an oyster reef. Ed remarks “You sure wouldn’t have seen all this rip-rap or any bulkheads when John Smith rounded the corner into the Chesapeake. This river had oysters on the shorelines; that was Mother Nature’s original design.”

The Ready Reef design is not always a perfect substitute for a marsh sill or a revetment, and there are several considerations such as salinity and water quality that will need to be examined, but the concept is very intriguing. Not only are these structures trapping pollutants at the river’s edge, but also each adult oyster is filtering up to 60 gallons of water per day. The bulkheads that were once considered the standard stabilization mechanisms for our shorelines have performed the reverse function, often allowing pollutants to flow, unchecked, into the river system.
The Ready Reef concept also speaks to the bigger-picture concerns of global warming, and sea-level rise. Where bulkheads may fail or give way to the rising river, a healthy oyster reef will continually grow to sea-level rise. “Oysters grow to the top and compete. Overtime, oysters are outcompeted and topple to the sides and bottom so that the reef not only grows in height, but in width.” Says Ed who has a reef protecting his Shoreline on Stutts Creek, pictured above. “Those reefs will be there long after a bulkhead would’ve been.”

Ready Reef doesn’t ignore concern about parasites and diseases that decimated the oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay decades ago. To combat these reef killers, Ready Reef has a two-fold plan: Oyster spat doesn’t leave the Ready Reef upweller until there is clear evidence of a healthy strike and the structures that the spat are placed on are specially designed to keep the reef higher in the water column and away from the diseases and parasites that are more prevalent at the sediment-smothered bottom.

Written by Richard Moncure, FOR Tidal River Steward

For more information about river friendly ways to stabilize your shoreline contact River Steward, Richard Moncure at Richard.moncure@riverfriends.org.

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