Oyster Restoration

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Fast Facts: What is oyster restoration? Photograph of a volunteer looking at an oyster through a magnifying glass.

Oysters are a favorite seafood dish for some, but they serve an even more important role in the marine ecosystem. When oysters feed, they filter excess nutrients and suspended solids from the water column, essentially “cleaning” the water of a bay or estuary. A combination of threats, including pollution, overharvesting, and disease, has caused a severe decline in oyster populations in New Hampshire’s Great Bay Estuary since the 1970s. To increase the “filtering” of the Great Bay system, federal and state efforts have focused on restoring oyster populations.

Coastal Research Volunteers participate in many steps of this restoration process: we prepare shells for the construction of a new two-acre reef, we monitor juvenile oysters to help them reach a size where they can more easily survive, and we work with the Nature Conservancy’s Oyster Conservationist Program to enable shoreline homeowners to raise young oysters (spats) to be used for restoration.


Volunteer Description: What do oyster restoration volunteers do?

Volunteer Experience: There are many ways to help with oyster restoration! If you have access to waterfront property, you can participate in the Oyster Conservationist Program, which entails raising a cage of oysters for 10 weeks (mid-July through September), checking on the oysters once per week, and collecting a small amount of data on oyster size every other week.

If you don’t have a place to raise oysters, there are many other ways to volunteer! CRV will hold single-day oyster restoration events at the Jackson Estuarine Laboratory in Durham, NH throughout spring and summer 2017.

Time Frame: Oyster Conservationists will spend 10 weeks raising oysters, requiring once-a-week check-ins and a quick data collection every other week. Other oyster volunteer opportunities are one-time commitments, typically lasting a few hours.

Project Impacts: Oysters raised through volunteer oyster restoration efforts go directly into the Great Bay, restoring its natural filtration capacity and improving its water quality. Since 2009, this collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and UNH has restored more than eighteen acres of reef and 3.5 million oysters to the Piscataqua Region Estuary!


  • Interest in handling oysters and improving the water quality of the Great Bay
  • To be an Oyster Conservationist, you must have access to shoreline property where you can raise oysters


  • Meet people from your community with similar interests
  • Opportunity to handle and learn about oysters
  • Contribute to a long-term dataset used to improve the water quality of the Great Bay

Questions? To join the 2017 Oyster Conservationist Program in raising young oysters, contact Amanda Moeser (TNC). For questions or more information about other Coastal Research Volunteers oyster activities, contact Caitlin Peterson.


Upcoming Opportunities: Join our oyster restoration effort!

Join us for to prepare 2017's oysters for their new home in the Great Bay! We will be recruiting a large number of volunteers in mid-September to help prepare the 2017 cohort of young oysters for their new home in the Great Bay's restored oyster reefs. Stay tuned for more information, and sign up for our newsletter to make sure you find out as soon as we put this opportunity on the calendar.


Learn More: Links, resources, and partner organizations

Read all about The Nature Conservancy’s oyster restoration work, check out this timeline of oyster restoration volunteer needs, and read this article in the Portsmouth Herald about all the progress that’s been made by the ongoing oyster restoration efforts. An effort this big can’t be taken on alone, so make sure you also check out the websites of all of our partners in oyster restoration:  NH Fish and Game, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership, the NH Moose Plate Program, and the Davis Foundation.


Photograph of three volunteers posing with a stack of oyster cages filled with oysters on a dock.
Photos: Emily Lord, The Stewardship Network: New England