We have taken movies of the Benning Reef site with an underwater web cam. This is the camera setup with a closeup of the head containing the webcam.
You can view the movies here. You will need a fairly high speed connection, such as cable or DSL.
One year the press reported the loss of $75,000 (or $45,000, depending on which article you read) worth of oysters placed on reefs in Virginia to Cownose Rays (also called skates or bullfish, according to one article, but actually a skate is an entirely different animal). This was a project of the Army Corps of Engineers, who apparently did not know that Rays eat baby oysters. These were "culch-less" oysters grown on small fragments of shell. Our baby oysters are grown on old oyster shells and have a lot more protection. Furthermore, one of the reasons we are "gardening" is to produce oysters that are strong enough to fend off predators. Studies of Cownose Ray stomachs show very few thick-shelled bivalves (adult oysters). It appears that the bigger the oyster, the less likely to be food for the Rays. Nevertheless, they are part of the eco-system and we have to live with them. By the way, the Cownose Ray does have a poisonous spine, but it is near the body, not on the end of the tail. They seldom rest on the bottom, so one is unlikely to step on them.
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the appearance of Dark False (or Platform) Mussels in some of the rivers. We have not yet seen a lot of them in the West River, but they may appear. They are small mussels and tend to be very dense below the waterline. Here is an excellent description and comparison with Zebra Mussels (which we are unlikely to see - they are fresh water mussels) from the DNR (page 1 page 2). They do help to clean the water, but whether they are responsible for areas actually seen to be clear is not known (some areas with lots of mussels appear to be quite clear, but so do some areas without mussels).
Each year we see different things in the bay. In 2003 it was the Year of the Sea Squirt. 2004 seemed to be big for mussels.
The oyster bar or oyster reef is home to many animals that use the cracks and crevices to hide from predators. One of its many benefits to the Bay is that an oyster reef provides habitat for all sorts of animals, many of which are food for larger species. An oyster reef is an excellant place to fish and crab. You will often find blue crabs inside or on top of your oyster cages. They are usually not harming the oysters - it is too much trouble to get through the tough shell of an oyster, unless the crab is trapped in your cage and has no choice for food. That is why we leave a little space at the top of the door for crabs to escape through. However, the crabs love the other animals that swim in and out of your cages.
Here are a few critters that you are very likely to find. Click on the picture for a bigger view.
|Amphipods - these are very numerous.|
|Clamworms - they eat amphipods.|
|White Fingered Mud Crab - they are crawlers, not swimmers and remain small.|
|Naked Goby - one of several fish found in the oyster bar.|
|Naked Goby - another view.|
|Skilletfish or Clingfish - one of several fish found in the oyster bar.|
|Striped Bleny - one of several fish found in the oyster bar.|
|Blue Crabs - they love to sit on the cages.|
|And, of course, OYSTERS!|