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NOAA OKs New Funds for Oyster Sanctuary

A crew with Stevens Towing Co. places oyster reef base material, limestone marl riprap at the site of a new oyster sanctuary in Pamlico Sound in 2017. File photo: Mark Hibbs

CARTERET COUNTY – Last week the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community-based Restoration Program announced it recommended $950,000 for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and partners to continue work on the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary.

With the funding, the federation and its partners plan to expand the 25-acre project to an almost 40-acre project in 2019. The North Carolina General Assembly provided matching sanctuary and cultch funds of $950,000 for the same project, which will be entering its third year.

At the end of June, contractors and project partners wrapped up the second phase of the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary, adding 10 acres to the project site and to the Sen. Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network.

This project began in the spring of 2017 when the federation and its partners, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and a private contractor, Stevens Towing Co. Inc., built 15 acres of oyster reef in the Pamlico Sound near the mouth of the Neuse River.

“We have really enjoyed being a part of building the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary. Promoting oyster growth and clean water in the Pamlico Sound are two things that are easy to love, so it is great to be able to put our skill set to work in helping attain these goals,” said Simon Rich of Stevens Towing Co.

The first phase of the project constructed oyster reefs out of limestone marl, but for the second implementation the reefs were created with granite. Granite is less susceptible to pests and is denser than limestone. Since this is the first time granite has been used on a project this size, the division says it will be closely monitoring the site to compare the use of granite to limestone.

“This project would not have been a success without the continued collaboration between the North Carolina Coastal Federation and Division of Marine Fisheries,” said Kaitlin DeAeth, an oyster sanctuary biologist with the division. “Participating in this construction project has been a rewarding experience and we look forward to phase three of this project.”

All the materials, contractors and employees for this project are based in North Carolina, including the 50 million pounds of granite. So far the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary has employed 56 people from North Carolina to complete the first and second phases of the project.

In addition to NOAA and state funding, the Swan Island project has received private donations.

“We are proud of our almost 20-year partnership with the North Carolina Coastal Federation toward restoring important oyster habitat,” said Pat Montanio, director, Office of Habitat Conservation in NOAA Fisheries. “This landscape-scale effort exemplifies the multiple benefits of habitat restoration to boost fisheries, improve water quality and support local economies.”

The Swan Island project is part of the federation’s 50 Million Oyster Initiative which aims to have 50 million oysters in North Carolina waters by 2020. In addition to filtering 2.5 billion gallons of water per day, the oyster reefs will provide habitat for other commercially and recreationally important fish.

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.