There's a lot going on at our 52-acre Morris Landing Clean Water Preserve near Holly Ridge in Onslow County. We're building oyster reefs, restoring salt marshes and helping the state in its efforts to improve oyster habitat in Stump Sound. [ map ]
The federation is creating a living shoreline and oyster habitat at Morris Landing, using a grant from the Fish America Foundation. The project will include creating three oyster reefs along the shoreline of Stump Sound. Two of the reefs will be made with mesh bags full of recycled oyster shells and marine limestone. The other reef will be made up of Lo-Pro Oyster Balls, hollow concrete domes that are designed to encourage oysters to attach to them. Oyster larvae will settle on and attach to the oyster shell, marl and oyster domes starting the reef formation process.
Besides providing valuable reef and fish habitat, the structures will also help to buffer waves and boat wakes and protect the salt marsh behind them. That marsh has eroded and the project includes building it back along a 250-foot-long section of the shoreline. Sand will be brought in to create the base of the new marsh and then about 2,500 spartina alterniflora (salt marsh cordgrass) will be planted in the area.
The 2008 project
The federation worked with a local contractor and volunteers in 2008 to install a 200-foot-long living shoreline at the landing. The N.C. Attorney General Office’s Environmental Enhancement Grant program and the Onslow County Soil and Water Conservation District Community Conservation Assistance Program funded the project. The contractor installed a base of small marl on which volunteers layered 1,800 bags full of oyster shells. Volunteers also planted 2,000 salt marsh plants in Stump Sound to complete the project. More than 130 students and volunteers from the G.E. Hitachi plant in Wilmington, Progress Energy, Wal-Mart, Coastal Carolina College and Cape Fear Community College contributed 1,100 hours to the project.
The 2005 project
Volunteers in built a 600-foot-long living shoreline project along the southeastern portion of the property. Funded by a grant from the NOAA Community Based Restoration Program, the living shoreline was made up of a low profile rock sill with marsh plantings behind it. The project also included a section of oyster shell bags. The project has successfully protected the shoreline, provided habitat for oysters and has enabled the restoration of a vibrant salt marsh community.
Morris Landing is a key piece in the federation’s and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries’ (DMF) strategy to restore oysters, enhance shellfish habitat and manage a sustainable oyster fishery in the highly productive waters of Stump Sound and surrounding waters. He state and the federation have been working to set up and fully use the site to increase and expand oyster-restoration activities. DMF first prepared a portion of the property to stockpile oyster shells and then it built a concrete pier for loading the shells onto DMF barges. The pier and stockpile area are the only permanent restoration facilities for DMF between Carteret and Brunswick counties. DMF currently uses the site to stockpile recycled oyster shells from area restaurants and drop-off sites. Each year between May and August, DMF loads the shells onto its barges and spreads them in waters in Onslow and Pender counties.
Onslow, Pender Projects
Morris Landing has allowed the federation and DMF to get more shells in Stump Sound and the waters of Onslow and Pender counties. As part of the three-year grant, the federation and the agency created eight acres of oyster habitat in Onslow County. More than 2,500 bushels of oyster shells also were placed into two research sanctuaries in the closed waters of Kings Creek and Old Settlers Canal in Surf City. An additional 16,000 bushels were placed into shellfish management areas in Stump Sound as part of the federation’s regional shellfish waters and habitat strategy.
Fishermen spread oyster shells as part of federal stimulus grant.
Federal Stimulus Project
Morris Landing was also the site for a portion of the $5 million economic stimulus grant that the federation received from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create jobs and restore oyster habitat. DMF bought about 18,000 bushels with money from the economic stimulus grant. Local commercial fishermen in 2010 received $2 a bushel to deploy the shells to build oyster reefs in Stump Sound. The reefs are spread over about four acres of shallow water behind the Permuda Island Coastal Reserve. The area is a designated shellfish management area and is closed to harvest for four years.
Morris Landing Background
The federation and DMF partnered to buy what we now call the Morris Landing Clean Water Preserve in 2004 with a grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund to protect water quality and restore oyster habitat. The acquisition prevents the development of Morris Landing and protects valuable estuarine habitat in Stump Sound.
The sound is highly valued for its productive fishing and its exceptional water quality and much of it is designated as a fish nursery. Stump Sound is also an excellent place for boating and fishing. Morris Landing is a favored area for local people to launch small boats, to fish and to enjoy the beauty of the sound.
Water Quality Declines
Water quality has declined since the state designated the sound an Outstanding Resource Water – its highest classification -- in 1989. Today the sound is closed to shellfish harvest after moderate rains. Polluted runoff is the problem. As more and more land close to the sound is cleared, ditched and developed, stormwater flowing into the sound as increased. Water quality declines, coupled with diseases and fishing pressure have stressed the oyster population in Stump Sound. In addition, valuable estuarine shoreline salt marsh habitat is being lost to erosion from boat wakes and shoreline hardening. The loss of oyster and salt marsh habitat is a critical issue for the public trust estuarine resources of Stump Sound.
The federation, along with other groups and agencies, is working addressing these issues facing Stump Sound. The Morris Landing Clean Water Preserve has been a focus of these efforts. The federation worked with the Clean Water Management Trust Fund to place a conservation easement on the property to protect the upland and estuarine habitats and prevent any stormwater from entering Stump Sound from the property.