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Could Oysters Make The Inner Harbor Swimmable?

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- They once made the Inner Harbor safe for swimming.

Alex DeMetrick reports those trying to improve the water's health are now turning back to the humble oyster for help.

Human life has thrived around Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  It's been harder for those who live in some of Maryland's most polluted water.

So old life if being re-introduced. Baby oysters, the size of a dime, are being attached to empty shells.

About 40,000 babies are going into cages to go into the harbor.

"Few people would realize or know that the harbor was filled with oysters.  It was clean, in large part, because oysters were doing the work," said Laurie Schwartz, Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

That work is filtering water.

Oysters strain out things like algae, which is oyster food. And as it happens, algae is one of the things the harbor has plenty of. In warm weather, it blooms into mahogany tides that eventually die off into dead zones.

"Here at the Baltimore harbor one of our main pollutants is stormwater pollution.  That's what washes off the land into the harbor," said Adam Lindquist, Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore.

Enlisting school kids to local businesses, cages to stock oysters are the latest tool to make the Inner Harbor swimmable and fishable by 2020.

"We don't expect them alone to clean the harbor. We wish they could," said Schwartz.

Returning to the harbor means returning to some big challenges.

"Some of those are the fresh water stream flows.  Some of those are low diminished oxygen that occurs here at different times," said Dr. Eric Schwaab, National Aquarium.

But in spite of the odds, backers of a cleaner harbor believe...

"We can demonstrate to a lot of people the power of individual actions in support of bay restoration," said Schwaab.

The first year, 75 cages will be deployed at five different locations around the harbor.

Expansion will depend on how well the oysters survive.

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