Listen Up, Oysters. Your New Home is Calling

Jun 1, 2024

Students engineer solar-powered sounds to attract Chesapeake Bay bivalves.

By Dino Lencioni

Chesapeake Bay oysters are more than a favorite seafood delicacy: These vital filter feeders help maintain water quality and their reefs also serve as critical habitats for crabs, fish, and other organisms. However, pollution, overharvesting, and disease have caused the destruction of oyster reefs over the last century. 

Partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Northrop Grumman, a team of Johns Hopkins electrical and computer engineering senior design program students is developing a device that promises to aid in the restoration of those dwindling oyster reefs. The team will present its prototype at the Whiting School of Engineering’s annual Design Day on May 1.  

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation already uses an acoustic system to attract oysters, but it has limitations due to reliance on traditional, manually rechargeable battery-powered sources and lack of continuous monitoring capabilities. 

To overcome these challenges Christian Kanzki, Chris Khoury, Casey Chen, Caitlyn Bernhard, and Kondi Phiri have developed a solar charging system to power the acoustic device continuously, eliminating the need for manual recharging and ensuring uninterrupted stimulation of oyster migration and reproduction.  

“Modern batteries would need to be extremely large, making it expensive, hard to float, and potentially dangerous. Our solar system is designed to be deployed unattended in the bay for extended periods,” said Kanzki. 

Additionally, the team is adding environmental monitoring sensors to the acoustic system. This will provide real-time data on water quality, oyster habitat suitability, and ecosystem health. By tracking parameters such as turbidity—cloudiness caused by suspended solids—salinity, and temperature, the device will enable the foundation to assess restoration effectiveness and make informed habitat management decisions. 

The students hope that future design teams will continue to work on and improve their device, positively affecting the Bay’s oyster population. 

“Although we face challenges including sourcing components and ensuring environmentally friendly packaging, we remain committed to contributing to the recovery of the Chesapeake Bay,” said Kanzki.