TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Environmental officials in New Jersey have green-lighted the expansion of an experimental oyster colony at a Navy pier in the Raritan Bay.

The project, being run by Rutgers University and the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper group, is designed to re-establish the once-plentiful shellfish in Raritan Bay to help improve the bay’s water quality.

The state Department of Environmental Protection allowed the groups to use nearly 11 acres off the Earle Naval Weapons Station to grow oysters and expand its research reef.

The groups put bags of oysters into the bay in October 2011, and about 90 percent of them survived the winter. Buoyed by those results, the researchers applied to expand the project.

“We now have the ability to move forward with a full-fledged research and restoration project,” said Debbie Mans, executive director of NY/NJ Baykeeper.

She said the group hopes to have at least 50,000 oysters in the water by this summer, a significant increase from the 3,900 that are present.

The long-term goals are to re-establish a species that was once so plentiful in Raritan Bay that maritime charts listed piles of oysters as threats to navigation, as well as to see if large amounts of oysters can help improve water quality in the bay, which has been hurt by decades of pollution.

Oysters naturally filter the water in which they live, making them, at least on paper, ideal cleaning agents for the Raritan Bay.

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