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Pamlico Oyster Reef Habitat to Grow 15 Acres

Barge with reef material. Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation

A $2.25 million oyster reef habitat project in Pamlico Sound has been recommended for funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is partnering with the state Division of Marine Fisheries to add 15 acres of new oyster reef habitat in Pamlico Sound. The project will add 5 acres per year over the next three years of additional oyster reefs in the Pamlico Sound.

Five acres of reef material are to be added to the 40-acre Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary during the first year of construction. Additional sites for reef construction will be selected based on input from the public, coupled with the best science available and logistical considerations.

“We’ve made tremendous progress on sanctuaries through this partnership between NOAA, the state and private contractors in the past three years. We are excited to see the work continue,” said Erin Fleckenstein, federation coastal scientist. “The sanctuaries have proven to be a valuable strategy for building back oyster reefs in our coastal waters, boasting ten times more oysters than other reef types.”

Building new oyster reefs is part of the North Carolina Oyster Blueprint strategy, an effort coordinated by the federation to protect and restore North Carolina’s oyster habitats and fisheries by implementing strategies outlined in the Blueprint. The five-year Blueprint is currently being updated and the ultimate goal is to ensure North Carolina becomes the “Napa Valley of Oysters,” according to the reelase.

Oyster sanctuaries make up about 6% of all oyster reefs in Pamlico Sound but contribute nearly 40% of the oyster population. One acre of oyster sanctuary supports nearly 1 million oysters in Pamlico Sound. The sanctuaries produce baby oysters that “seed” reefs that may be harvested and serve as an insurance policy for the sound’s oyster population in the face of man-made or natural disasters, according to the federation.

The federation, division and partners have worked to increase oyster habitat over the past several years, including projects funded by an American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, grant and a subsequent three-year NOAA grant 2017-2019.

In 2015, the North Carolina General Assembly approved construction of a 500-acre oyster sanctuary network to be named in memory of the late Sen. Jean Preston, R-Carteret. The network has 357 acres and  NOAA has been a funding partner in the construction of 95 of those acres.

“Throughout our long-standing partnership, the North Carolina Coastal Federation has been instrumental in restoring oyster reef habitat in Pamlico Sound and beyond,” said Carrie Selberg Robinson, director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Habitat Conservation. “NOAA is dedicated to advancing this critical work and strengthening the fisheries, ecosystems, and communities these oyster reefs will support.

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Staff Report

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