In recent years, there has been renewed focus on restoring the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay. Research shows that oysters thrive when settling on oyster shell, but existing shell in Maryland is sparse. However, fossilized shell dug from a mine on Florida's panhandle has been found effective in restoring oysters to targeted rivers. The trick is bringing the shells north in a cost effective manner.
Therefore, CSX has joined a number of partners—the Oyster Recovery Partnership, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—in their efforts to support the Chesapeake oyster population. CSX volunteered to transport an unprecedented amount of the fossilized natural oyster shell up the coast by rail.
Steve Williams, a board member for NFWF, notes that as a partner in the project, CSX agreed to provide transportation of the shells as an in-kind contribution of approximately $2.5 million. "Without the involvement of CSX," Williams adds, "this project would have taken years and years to complete."
When completed, CSX's "Oyster Express" will have transported a total of 112,500 cubic yards of fossilized oyster shell from Florida to Harris Creek, a tidal creek on the eastern shore of Maryland. The shell that is being transported will be used to build about 70 acres of underwater habitat in the creek to function as nursery grounds for these oysters. Upon those habitats, the University of Maryland and the Oyster Recovery Partnership will directly place millions upon millions of oysters.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley noted, "Because of this partnership, we're able to make progress for the health of the Bay…and more importantly, the future generation of Maryland."
The result of this collaboration is the single largest oyster restoration project using natural substrate in the history of the Chesapeake Bay. It demonstrates how such a strong partnership can help to achieve even the most ambitious conservation goals and deliver important benefits to both natural and human communities in and around the Bay.