CAROLINA BEACH — Construction began last week on a one-acre artificial reef meant to enhance recreational fishing and create oyster reef habitat in the lower Cape Fear River.

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, with support from Carolina Beach State Park and the North Carolina Coastal Federation, is leading the construction of Artificial Reef (AR) 491 in a five-acre project area just off the park’s Cape Fear River shoreline. NC DMF’s barges are deploying 700 tons of reef material (clean, recycled crushed concrete) into the river to create the reef. The reef material is stockpiled next to the park’s marina.

The NC DMF Artificial Reef Program has been formally operating since the 1970s, and has a total of 68 permitted artificial reefs and oyster sanctuaries within the state of North Carolina. Twenty-five of these sites are in the state’s estuaries, while 43 are in ocean waters. NC DMF selected the site in the Lower Cape River to increase recreational user access and to add to its network of small estuarine artificial reefs in the state. Construction for this project by NC DMF is funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Sport Fish Restoration Program and with support from Grady-White Boats through the North Carolina Coastal Federation.

The five-acre project area was selected for the potential for oyster reef habitat creation and proximity to Carolina Beach State Park. The shallow water depths surrounding the park are popular with recreational anglers. An accessible and nearshore artificial reef will enhance fishing opportunities while also serving as hard bottom habitat for oysters and finfish species.

This project is a component of multiple plans and initiatives intended to increase oyster and fish habitat and improve water quality in the Cape Fear River and throughout the North Carolina coast. The Cape Fear River used to be lined with extensive reefs, but it has experienced a severe decline in oyster population over the last several decades due to pollution, overfishing, deepening of the river, disease, sedimentation and loss of habitat. The river still has a high volume of floating oyster larvae, and this artificial reef will serve as a base to which larvae can attach and form new oyster reefs.

This one-acre reef will be the first of potentially five acres of artificial reef habitat at the site, and more restoration projects are planned in the future for the river and park.

The federation in 2013 received a $90,000 grant from Grady-White Boats to design and construct 1.25 acres of oyster reef to support NC DMF’s work to increase oyster habitat and recreational fishing in the Cape Fear River.

The federation started that oyster restoration work with a 200-foot living shoreline that included an oyster shell bag sill off the shores of Carolina Beach State Park. These oyster bags provide habitat for new oysters and other fish while decreasing erosion.

This oyster restoration project is part of the larger Cape Fear Blueprint, which the federation is developing to restore the Cape Fear River through funding from the The Orton Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation. The goal of the blueprint is to improve the river and surrounding watershed’s overall health and water quality.

This acre of reef habitat is also a component of the federation’s work through a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency grant, as more feet of living shoreline will be added to the shores of the Cape Fear River in 2018.

Oyster restoration is important for improving water quality and fish habitat. An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. The federation has worked for more than a decade with NC DMF and other partners to create oyster reefs throughout the coast. It took the lead in 2003 to develop a blueprint for oyster restoration efforts in the state, titled the Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina: A Blueprint for Action. The plan is updated every five years and the current plan is focused on oyster restoration efforts in 2015-2020. As part of its efforts, the federation last year launched the 50 Million Oyster Initiative, through which it aims to restore 50 acres of oyster reef by 2020. This acre of reef in the Cape Fear River will contribute to that goal.

For more information on this project, contact

  • NC DMF: Jordan Byrum, artificial reef biologist, 252-808-8055,
  • Carolina Beach State Park: J. Chris Helms, park superintendent, 910-458-8206,
  • North Carolina Coastal Federation: Ted Wilgis, coastal education coordinator, 910-509-2838,

More information about oyster restoration is available at and