Virginia Oyster Restoration Center (VAORC)
CBF staffers examine oysters being raised on CBF's oyster farm. Photo by CBF Staff
Bringing Back a Virginia Native
Virginia's oyster restoration staff of three is small in number but mighty in effort, enthusiasm, and effectiveness as they aim to re-establish this keystone species. They work in rivers from the Northern Neck to Virginia Beach and from two facilities: the Virginia Oyster Restoration Center (VAORC) in Gloucester Point along the York River, on property owned by William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS), and on a small oyster farm a few miles away on Sarah Creek in Gloucester County.
Virginia Oyster Restoration Center (VAORC)
The VAORC offers diverse and unique hands-on opportunities where all types of people—farmers, teachers, students, and decision makers—can learn about Bay ecology. The VAORC and associated programs have planted nearly 40 million oysters across many of Virginia's Bay tributaries with the help of thousands of volunteers. In 2011 over four million spat-on-shell oysters were planted on reefs in the Lafayette and Piankatank Rivers and more than 100 reef balls set with oysters were planted in the Piankatank River for habitat and broodstock enhancement.
The mission of the Virginia Oyster Restoration Center is to:
- Leverage greater public and private investment in the Baywide oyster restoration effort.
- Engage citizens, students and decision makers in hands-on oyster restoration activities.
- Create public awareness of the critical need to restore oysters.
- Develop partnerships with community groups, institutions, agencies and organizations.
- Serve as a platform for education and scientific research.
- Produce oysters for local reef restoration projects.
- Promote commercial oyster aquaculture.
- Work with oyster processors, growers and watermen to develop innovative ways to sustain the industry.
VAORC maintains four 800-gallon tanks used to grow juvenile oysters, called 'spat.' These setting tanks are loaded with recycled oyster shell, and then filled with Bay water. Oyster larvae, produced by the VIMS Aquaculture Genetics and Breeding Technology Center (ABC), are then released into the tanks. After a few days, these larvae attach, or 'set,' onto the shells, at which point they are called 'spat.' CBF and our volunteers produce millions of spat at VAORC each year, and transplant them onto restored sanctuary reefs throughout the state. Most of the shells used in our spat-on-shell program were reclaimed by through CBF’s shell recycling program. Concrete reef balls are also placed in the tanks and coated with spat. These round two-foot by two-foot structures act as an instant oyster reef when deployed in the waters of the Bay.
Shell Washing Station
Located beneath the foot of the Coleman Bridge in Gloucester at VIMS, the VAORC’s shell washing station is a crucial step in the shell recycling process. Before old oyster shell can be placed in bags and setting tanks, they must be cured in the sun and then washed individually. Each shell makes its way up a conveyor belt then gets spun and sprayed with water. The process requires many hands and the VAORC staff rely on hard-working volunteers.
The Oyster Farm
VAORC operates a small scale commercial oyster farm to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of oyster aquaculture to watermen and other entrepreneurs. The farm also has two floating "upweller" systems used as nurseries to grow small two-millimeter seed oysters to planting size, approximately 25 millimeters.
CBF's oyster farm is an important tool for educating policy makers, citizens, teachers, and students about oyster biology and restoration. VAORC also hosts several trips to the oyster farm each year for Shenandoah farmers to connect them to the Bay and to demonstrate how agricultural practices impact bay water quality.
Restoration Vessel Chesapeake Gold
VAORC is also the homeport of the innovative oyster restoration vessel Chesapeake Gold. The Chesapeake Gold is used primarily for the farm's aquaculture program and for assisting partners with restoration and research projects. Among the vessel's highlights is its small boom-crane which is used to lift cages on our oyster farm and at our oyster setting sites.