Fenwick Island, DE - The first known artificial oyster reef in Little Assawoman Bay was installed by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays during the week of July 29th to work towards restoring once abundant populations of native oysters to the Inland Bays. Oysters filter water and provide tremendous water quality benefits and create habitat for fish and wildlife. This unique reef was created by using recycled oyster shells collected from local restaurants instead of concrete oyster castles. This reef will help researchers understand the growth and survival of oyster reefs in the Inland Bays so that any future artificial reefs can be placed in the best possible locations.

This reef was constructed using spent oyster shells from local restaurants that participate in  the Center’s Don’t Chuck Your Shucks shell recycling program. Spent shells are collected by Center staff, left to cure for a few months, and then bagged by teams of volunteers in the late winter and early spring.  The shells were transported to Little Assawoman Bay by Center staff then interns and volunteers removed the shells from the bags, and shaped into the 10 x 40-foot reef. The reef was then “seeded” with oysters raised by the Center’s volunteer oyster gardeners.

This project represents the full life cycle of an oyster shell: from the dinner plate to the foundation for new oyster growth in an oyster gardener’s basket, to finally returning to the bays as part of an artificial reef. Although these shells originated in restaurants, the oysters that will grow on these reefs are not permitted to be harvested or consumed--they are strictly for restoration and research purposes.

“Each of these research reefs will provide water quality and habitat benefits, but will also help us better design and locate future reefs, aiding in the recovery of wild oysters in the Inland Bays,” said Andrew McGowan, Environmental Scientist, Center for the Inland Bays.

Oysters provide incredible water quality benefits. One adult oyster can filter up to fifty gallons of water per day! Oyster reefs also provide critical habitat for commercially and recreationally important wildlife like flounder, black sea bass, and blue crabs.  Unfortunately, due to disease and water quality issues, the Inland Bays have very low wild oyster populations. The reef in Little Assawoman Bay, along with two additional reefs being built in Rehoboth Bay, will allow the Center and other project partners to determine which areas in the bays are best suited for oyster growth, survival, and reproduction. With this information, the Center can optimize the placement of future reefs and help increase wild oyster populations leading to cleaner water and increased habitat for other aquatic creatures.

The installation of three research reefs in the Inland Bays represents the beginning of restoring wild oysters to the Inland Bays. While these reefs are a critical first step, they are the start to a long-term effort needed to bring back the wild eastern oyster population within the Inland Bays. You can help by donating to the Center for the Inland Bays, eating oysters at a participating Don’t Chuck Your Shucks restaurants, or by becoming an oyster gardener. 


The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays is a non-profit organization established in 1994 and is one of 28 National Estuary Programs. With its many partners, the Center works to preserve, protect and restore Delaware’s Inland Bays and their watershed.