OCEAN GATE - A New Jersey environmental group has taken a major step toward re-establishing an oyster colony in Barnegat Bay.

The American Littoral Society held a send-off party Wednesday in Ocean Gate for 21,000 oyster larvae.

Several small boats took part in the procession to carry the oyster spat to the reef site in the bay about a quarter-mile off a section of Berkeley Township.

Staff and volunteers then dumped the spat into the bay and returned to shore a short time later.

Group officials say the oyster colony should improve water quality and help protect the shoreline from storms like Superstorm Sandy.

The shellfish filter water, straining out many pollutants. The hard-shell colonies also act as speed bumps for storm waves and tidal surges, helping blunt the impact of severe storms on the shoreline.