January 15, 2010 VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Army Corps of Engineers Lynnhaven Oyster Restoration Project Team received the 2009 Coastal American Partnership Award Jan. 14 for their efforts to restore a 60-acre network of oyster reefs in the Lynnhaven River.
These are permanent sanctuaries -free from fishing – creating the second largest such network in the world. This network functions as a Marine Protected Area benefiting the ecosystem with increased oyster larval production throughout the river, improved juvenile fish habitat, and better water quality. The team will continue to collaborate between federal, state, local governments, academia and local non-profit organizations to expand the sanctuary to an additional 40 acres.
The ceremony, which was the highlight of the Lynnhaven River Now’s annual social, was held at the Steinhilber’s Restaurant in Virginia Beach.
The award is the only environmental award of its kind given by the White House, and Col. Andy Backus, commander of the Norfolk district, accepted the plaque on behalf of the Corps.
Individual plaques were also presented by Mr. Doug Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army (project planning and review) to: Mr. David Schulte, a marine biologist who has been with the Norfolk district for nine years; Mr. Clay Bernick, on behalf of the City of Virginia Beach; Mr. Jack Travelstead from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission; Mrs. Karen Forget of Lynnhaven River Now; and Mr. Rom Lipcius, a professor at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Schulte, who is also a doctoral student at the College of William and Mary, Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has been involved in the restoration project since the Corps initiated the planning effort in 2004.
“If it wasn’t for the City of Virginia Beach for getting the spat-on-shells we would not have been able to get started” said Schulte.
Karen Forget, executive director of Lynnhaven River Now, said, “This award will help shed light and bring awareness to the water quality of the Lynnhaven River and potentially other tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.”
The Corps and its partners, all of whom, along with endorsement of the Commonwealth of Virginia, were instrumental in starting, overlooking and continuing the efforts once the U.S. Army Corps Lynnhaven Oyster Restoration Project started. The first Corps-built reefs were constructed in 2007, the next were built in 2008.
The Norfolk District has been involved with native oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay since 1999. The first two projects were completed in the lower Rappahannock River and in the Tangier Sound. The projects were designed to primarily augment the commercial oyster fishery but had limited success. The team changed their strategy – one geared towards ecological restoration with hopes of developing self-sustaining oyster populations on restored reefs. Reefs were built at higher relief from the bottom to better mimic historical oyster reef structure in the hope that they would perform better than the prior designs, which are to scatter a thin shell layer a few inches thick over the bottom or to build a series of six foot tall mounds in an “upside down egg-shell crate” configuration. The team also decided to focus on a tributary-by-tributary fashion, starting with small, tidally retentive systems most likely to provide oyster recruits for restored reef habitat.
This new strategy was implemented in the Great Wicomico River in 2004. “The restored reefs are now performing better than we could have hoped,” said Schulte.
“Lynnhaven reefs are following on track and we expect similar projects to be as successful in several years,” said Schulte. Schulte added that based on studies and the success of the sanctuaries in the Lynnhaven and Great Wicomico Rivers, inner-tidal reefs are the next direction for oyster restoration.
For more information on the continuing collaborative efforts of oyster restoration, visit the U.S. Army Corps if Engineers, Norfolk District, website at http://www.nao.usace.army.mil/