NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — It’s great news for a local waterway.
Officials have declared the Lafayette branch of the Elizabeth River is Virginia’s first waterway to reach oyster habitat restoration goals.
On Monday, crews with the Elizabeth River Project, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others planted the final oysters on restored reefs near the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provided part of the funding for the project, recognized the Lafayette’s restoration goal.
“On behalf of the Chesapeake Bay Program, NOAA is excited to mark this important milestone,” said Sean Corson, acting director of NOAA’s Chesapeake Bay Office.
Joe Rieger of the Elizabeth River Project says it was a team effort.
“Everyone from homeowners growing oysters in their back yards to major industries donating materials.”
Rieger says the team used a combination of shells and recycled crushed concrete as the building blocks to create the reefs.
“We found that the baby oysters like the concrete as much as the shell.”
12 new oyster reefs seeded with 70 million baby oysters, called spat, have been installed since 2010.
The goal, outlined in the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Agreement, is to restore oysters in 10 Chesapeake waterways by 2025.
“It’s unbelievable that a part of the Elizabeth River, once presumed dead, now leads Virginia for restoration of the native oyster,” said ERP Executive Director Marjorie Mayfield Jackson.
Healthy oysters serve as natural filters that clean water, protect from erosion, and create a habitat for fish, crabs and other aquatic life.
“Striped bass, sea horses, speckled trout, providing habitat for those animals that we either like to catch or see out there as part of the ecosystem,” said Chris Moore, a scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Officials say samples from the Lafayette show that oysters reaching levels “well above” the program’s density goal of 50 oysters per square meter, and the reefs have become a diverse home to 25 species of fish.
The next area waterway that will be a point of emphasis for oyster restoration is the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River.