In the past 100 years, the population of the native Virginia oyster (c. Virginica
) has fallen dramatically, due to over-harvesting, disease and poor water quality. Now the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Norfolk District and its federal, state and local partners are preparing to embark on an ambitious project that aims to increase the population of native oysters in the Lynnhaven River.
As part of the district’s native oyster restoration efforts, the Corps is building acres of new sanctuary oyster reefs in the Lynnhaven. The reefs are constructed of fossilized oyster shell dredged from the James River and selected reefs were seeded with 2000 bushels of spat on shell oysters in the summer of 2008. Building on the 30 plus acres of oyster reefs constructed in 2007, the Norfolk District constructed an additional 22 acres of new sanctuary oyster reefs in Broad Bay and Linkhorn Bay in 2008. Additional seeding of reefs will be accomplished by Lynnhaven River Now during the summer of 2009.The project provides both ecological benefit and increased harvest on adjacent private leased grounds.
The Commonwealth of Virginia, as represented by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, is the non-federal sponsor for the project. Other partners include the City of Virginia Beach, Lynnhaven River NOW, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Why the Lynnhaven?
The Lynnhaven River is considered a prime spot for oyster restoration because it is a trap estuary with high salinity, had historically high populations of native oysters and has considerably higher oyster recruitment today than many other sites in the Chesapeake Bay. The project combines the latest techniques in restoration science with information gathered more than 100 years ago – Corps scientists used such tools as hydrodynamic modeling and maps and historical records of productive oyster grounds to determine the best sites for reef construction
The Corps mission is ecosystem restoration. A successful project will enhance commercial oyster production on areas, public or private, that could be fished. While Corps constructed reefs will become sanctuaries where no oyster harvesting will be permitted, other types of activities, such as crabbing and fishing, will be allowed on the reefs. Locations and heights of the constructed reefs are not expected to interfere with navigation in the Lynnhaven River.
Norfolk District has been engaged in restoring the native oyster species since 2001 and has completed three projects to date – the Rappahannock River, Tangier/Pocomoke Sound and the Great Wicomico River.
For more information on the Corps’ oyster restoration plans, visit www.armyengineersnorfolk.com/oysters