Click the photos above to enlarge.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation recently partnered with the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries and a private contractor, Stevens Towing Company, Inc., to add 15 acres of oyster reef to the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network this summer. This project was slated to take six months, but due to better-than-expected weather conditions and a team of professionals that worked seven days a week to build the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary, work was completed in two-and-a-half months.

While it’s hard to see the reef, as it is underwater and several miles from shore, DMF created a few images of the area with North Carolina landmarks overlaid to give perspective to the project. Fifteen acres of reef would cover the entire North Carolina General Assembly and government complex, or would cover two-and-a-half football stadiums. These images are pictured above.

Through the partnership, DMF used state appropriations to site the reef, secure permits and acquire the material needed to build the reef. The federation brought additional resources to the table through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant that allowed them to hire the marine contractor that transported and deployed the materials at the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary site.

The oyster sanctuaries are sited to create an interconnected network of broodstock reefs that provide larvae and juvenile oysters to nearby harvestable reefs. While the sanctuaries themselves are only open to hook-and-line fishing, nearby cultch areas are open to harvest after oysters reach legal size (three inches).

Over the next few months DMF will work to deploy additional material on 80 acres of harvestable oyster cultch sites throughout the state. Once the reefs have grown up to legal size they will be opened to harvest.

By 2020, the federation and partners plan to construct 50 acres of oyster sanctuary, known as the 50 Million Oyster Initiative. Each acre of sanctuary supports approximately one million oysters, and those 50 million oysters will filter up to 2.5 trillion gallons of water daily.

For additional information about the sanctuary program or cultch planting sites please contact Garry Wright with the Division of Marine Fisheries at garry.wright@ncdenr.gov or Erin Fleckenstein with the federation at erinf@nccoast.org.