Photo essay: Reflecting on interviews with oyster farmers during my internship

My name is Grace Cajski, and I’m a 2022-2024 Hollings scholar. I’m interested in how coastal communities are feeding themselves in a changing world. This summer, I joined the Milford Laboratory GoPro team in their project to understand the potential ecological benefits of aquaculture gear, specifically oyster cages. My project had two components: I analyzed scup behavior on sparse and dense oyster farms in comparison with natural rock reefs, and I interviewed and profiled the shellfish growers that supported the GoPro team throughout the project. In this blog post, I'll take you through some pictures I took during my visits with the shellfish growers, and reflect on what I learned from them.

Photo Essay

Through the summer, I visited six oyster growers in Connecticut and spoke with them about their work. (1 of 7)

Grace and the oyster farmer stand on a dock with boats docked on either side. Grace looks at the oyster grower, who is speaking and gesturing towards his boat.
Grace talking to one oyster grower about his equipment. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)

They spoke about the intense physical labor required to cultivate oysters. (2 of 7)

A woman stands on a dock that looks to be used for oyster farming tasks. She is spraying water from a hose into a series of connected metal cylinders. There are PVC pipes coming out of the cylinders that empty into bins.
An oyster farmer uses an oyster tumbler, which prevents oysters from fusing together. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)

As well as the resilience and determination necessary to rely on something so dynamic as the ocean. (3 of 7)

A sideview of an oyster harvesting boat named "The Cultivator" on the water. Three people stand on the boat looking into the distance, two stand on raised cubes. A fourth person is in an enclosed helm.
Oyster farmers from Copps Island Oysters on the water. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)

One storm or one invasive species could trigger a fruitless harvest. (4 of 7)

An empty dock on a gray, overcast day. Empty oyster cages sit on the end of the dock.
A dock used by oyster farmers. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)

And yet the growers spoke with love and affection, not just for their own oysters, but also for the ocean and the surrounding environment. (5 of 7)

A close-up someone's hands cupping two oysters that look to have been freshly pulled from the water.
Oysters held by an oyster farmer. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)

To them, I found, oyster aquaculture was an act of working in tandem with nature, as co-collaborators. (6 of 7)

A basket made of connected metal rings that looks to be full of oysters is lifted out of the water by equipment that is out of sight.
Some oyster farmers use dredges, like this one, which are like rakes to harvest their oysters. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)

It was such a pleasure to meet these growers and hear their stories: I left my NOAA Milford internship inspired and excited by the world of oyster aquaculture. (7 of 7)

Empty oyster cages are stacked next to a small pile of oyster shells. The photograph looks past the oyster cages at a marshy landscape.
Oyster cages by the Indian River. (Image credit: Grace Cajski)
A headshot of Grace Cajski.
Grace Cajski, 2022 Hollings scholar

Grace Cajski is a 2022 Hollings scholar and English and environmental studies double-major at Yale University.