(VIRGINIA BEACH)—On Suffolk’s Nansemond River, oyster restoration practices will be used to protect shorelines in a pioneering partnership between the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance (NRPA) and Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF). These restoration projects will deploy a variety of innovative techniques and the results will be evaluated for their ability to provide benefits such as increasing oyster populations and preventing erosion.
The organizations selected sites recently and plan to install the projects in 2021. This groundbreaking work is made possible by a grant from Suffolk-based Bleakhorn Foundation.
“Along the Nansemond River you’ll soon see how oysters can naturally reduce erosion and pollution. This will give a better understanding of restoration techniques that not only bring back the native oyster population, but also protect shorelines,” said CBF Hampton Roads Director Christy Everett. “NRPA’s local expertise, in-depth knowledge of the river, and network of volunteers will complement CBF’s decades of oyster restoration experience to help make the Nansemond a model for using natural methods to protect shorelines.”
Nature can help mitigate the impacts of erosion and flooding that threaten many waterfront properties. If waves first hit oyster structures lining the shore, some of the force of the waves is absorbed before it can cause erosion. This assists in the resurgence of marsh grasses, which also buffer waves and lessen flooding. The historic losses of oysters and wetlands in our region have reduced these natural protections.
Building shorelines using natural processes brings back those benefits and can be less costly and more effective than hard shoreline protections such as riprap and bulkheads. Oyster reefs also provide homes and food for fish, crabs, and other wildlife, and filter pollution that enters waterways.
In the Nansemond River, different materials will be used to construct oyster reefs along shorelines. The results will be monitored and evaluated to determine the most effective practices in the region. These steps will lay the foundation for future shoreline oyster restoration work throughout Hampton Roads.
NRPA is dedicated to raising public awareness and increasing environmental stewardship of the Nansemond River and its tributaries. For nearly a decade, over 5,000 adults and 10,000 students have participated in NRPA’s community-wide projects and environmental education programs. Projects include oyster gardening and reef restoration on the river and creeks, as well as projects that reduce stormwater runoff into the waters.
"Bringing back native oysters in the Nansemond will not only help local oyster populations, but also increase underwater habitat, provide increased economic opportunities for our local watermen, and help provide cleaner water for our citizens–wins for both nature and our citizens,” said Elizabeth Taraski, PhD, President/CEO of NRPA.
Oyster populations in the Nansemond River region have faced many challenges. Today, a significant amount of Suffolk’s waterways remains closed to shellfish harvesting due to high bacteria levels, robbing the region of economic opportunities and limiting the areas watermen can work.
As work proceeds on the projects, local volunteers will be able to help at events to build concrete oyster reef balls. If you are interested in volunteering for the project submit your information online at www.NansemondRiverPreservationAlliance.org.
Both NRPA and CBF are members of the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance, and their work on the Nansemond River in Suffolk will support the Alliance goal of adding 10 billion new oysters to the Bay by 2025.