Impact Story 24: The North Carolina Coastal Federation: Restoring Oysters and Water Quality in North Carolina’s Estuaries

Posted April 24, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-30 at 10.42.20 PMNORTH CAROLINA COASTAL FEDERATION has been focused on oyster restoration to benefit both the environment and economy of North Carolina since the millennium. In 2015 the federation, a long-time partner of Louis Bacon’s Orton Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation, updated previous oyster restoration and protection plans by coordinating the Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina: A Blueprint for Action, 2015-2020, linking the restoration and protection of the native oyster population with a comprehensive coastal restoration and protection strategy.

Now the federation has announced its 50 Million Oyster Initiative, a three-year campaign to restore 50 million oysters in North Carolina waters. Launched in Pamlico Sound where the federation and its partners are creating 50 acres of new oyster sanctuaries in the next three years, the initiative has been activated throughout the entire coast, where oysters’ many benefits will be put to work.

Fifty million oysters translates to 500,000 bushels and 50 million homes for crabs and fish.

Federation volunteers add oyster shells to the water. Fifty million oysters translates to 500,000 bushels and 50 million homes for crabs and fish.

Short term it will provide jobs for contractors, fishermen, construction workers, truck drivers and many others during the construction of the reefs. After the reefs are completed, the initiative has major economic and environmental upside: it will improve fish habitat and water quality, which benefits both commercial and recreational fishermen, the tourism industry and the coastal environment as a whole for years to come.

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To create reefs, the division annually deposits tens of thousands of bushels of oyster shell, marine limestone and clam shell — called cultch — in shellfish waters from the Shallotte River to the Pamlico Sound. The division enhances oyster habitat in harvest areas by spreading cultch, which is colonized by oyster larvae (called the uninspiring name ‘spat’) that attach to the cultch and grow to three-inch harvest size in 18 to 24 months.

Every bag of oyster shells put in the water during its many living shoreline projects will contribute to its success. Each acre supports approximately one million oysters, there will be 50 million oysters supporting many different species of fish and wildlife by 2020 across the state.

Learn more about the 50 Million Oyster Initiative here.