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Maintaining Oyster Gardens: A Day in the Life of a CIB Intern

It’s another warm July morning as Alex and I hop in the company truck to begin a long day of oyster gardening. Looking over our list, we see that we have just a few more houses left to visit. These are the final oyster pickups of the summer, after which we will begin redistributing spat to new and existing oyster gardeners.

Stopping at our first location in south Bethany, we get out of the truck and grab our equipment – gloves, scissors, and a large metal hook to lift oyster cages out of the water. At each stop I can’t help but think “We look more like a couple of criminals than anything else.”

We knock on the door of an elegant south Bethany home and explain why we’re here. After giving the usual oyster gardening sales pitch, the homeowner lets us through their backyard, directing us to her taylor float. “We’ve kinda slacked off on keeping them clean, I hope that’s alright,” she says. Having heard this at about half of our previous stops, Alex and I assure her that this is no issue.

We lift the oyster cages out of the water, leaving the taylor float behind for new inserts later in the summer. We remind her that we will be back in a few weeks with new baby oysters, and are on our way to the next house. We repeat this process at a few more houses until Alex and I finally cross off the last name on our list. After a quick lunch break celebration, we get right back to work starting the second half of the summer oyster gardening plan – getting spat and equipment back to all of our volunteers. 

Oysters are kept in cages and placed in a “taylor float”, then floated off of docks of local canals.


Now half way through this hot summer day we head north to Lewes, the home of the University of Delaware’s marine campus. It is here that we have a large holding tank in which we are growing new oysters. About a month ago we released 1 million oyster larvae in this tank. With tons of oyster shells already in place, we hoped that these new larvae would attach and begin growing on old spent shell, and they have done just that. They’re now ready to be moved to backyards all across southern Delaware.  

A holding tank in Lewes, the home of the University of Delaware’s marine campus, contains shells and spat – the combination for growing new oysters.

We clean up the tank, removing mud and sediment that has found its way through the intake valves, and take out 10 cages worth of oysters. After placing these in the truck, we cover them with a wet towel to keep them cool and alive on their long journey to a new home. Looking back at our list, Alex and I head down to Fenwick Island where we begin redistributing these new oysters.

Like oyster pickups, we arrive at the first house on our list, knock on the door, and head to the backyard after a brief discussion with the homeowner. We place the oysters back in their taylor floats, and are on our way. Our work here is finished!

As interns, this marks the end of our role in the oyster gardening process. But the oysters, however, have just begun their journey towards cleaner, healthier Inland Bays. Starting as just tiny larvae in a holding tank, these new oysters will grow in the backyards of over 100 homes throughout southern Delaware. With each oyster filtering about 50 gallons of water a day, you can just imagine the impact this program is having on our beloved bays. While they may not be the prettiest creatures, they sure are helping to restore the Inland bays, and I’m glad to be a part of it! 

About the Author

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Originally from Ponce, Puerto Rico, Nivette completed her Bachelor's in Coastal Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. She then went on to complete her Masters of Science in Natural Resources through Delaware State University as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center in Dover, Delaware.

Before her work at the Center, she held a field technician position with Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and worked as an independent consultant for the Caribbean Fishery Management Council.  Through these experiences, she interacted with numerous recreational and commercial anglers learning first-hand about fisheries and aquatic ecosystems. These interactions motivated her passion for science communications.

In her spare time, she can be found training Krav-Maga, helping organize events to promote outdoor recreation like Delaware’s Becoming an Outdoors Woman program, working to increase Diversity and Inclusion in the fisheries sciences with the Equal Opportunity Section of the American Fisheries Society, hiking Delaware’s trails or fishing Delaware’s waterways with friends and family.


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