Between Terminals A-East and B,
The eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is a native species of eastern coastal waters including Philadelphia's nearby Delaware Bay that borders Delaware and New Jersey. The eastern oyster has a long history as a commercially and ecologically important natural resource for the Delaware Bay area.
The eastern oyster with its unique taste has been highly valued on the oyster market for more than 300 years. Since the mid-1750s, Delaware Bay oysters have been shipped to Philadelphia and New York. Between the 1880s and 1920s, 1 million to 2.4 million bushels were harvested from the Bay annually making the eastern oyster an economic powerhouse for the bayshore communities like New Jersey's Port Norris and the towns of Bivalve and Shellpile – 2 towns named after their livelihood.
Oysters are also an important resource that keep the water and shorelines thriving. One adult oyster is capable of filtering 50 gallons of water a day as it feeds on algae. And oyster shells are also an invaluable natural resource as the shells form reef habitats that attracts young oyster larvae to grow, sustains a variety of fish and wildlife, and provides an armor to prevent shoreline erosion.
Unfortunately, in the late 1950s, the oyster population was severely threatened due to overharvesting and diseases that nearly eliminated the species, devastated the industry and shoreline economy, and eroded the coastal marshes.
Over the decades, the population of eastern oysters made a subtle rebound but it wasn't until the mid-1990s when an aggressive restoration project began to revitalize the oyster population in the Delaware Bay. The Partnership for the Delaware Bay Estuary, founded in 1996, and a coalition of organizations formed the Delaware Bay Oyster Restoration Task Force that manages the ecosystem through scientific research, a shell planting program, strict area management, and harvesting quotas. Today, the eastern oyster population has stabilized but it requires an on-going collaborative effort to ensure that the eastern oyster remains healthy which in turn provides the region with clean water, a robust shellfish economy, and a living sustainable shoreline for future generations.
Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
Bayshore Center at Bivalve
Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory, Bivalve
Tongers Harvesting Oysters, 1938, Library of Congress
Pile of Oyster Shells, Shellpile, NJ, Library of Congress
Oyster Restoration, Partnership for the Delaware Estuary, Port Norris, NJ, 2011