CARTERET COUNTY — Construction on the second phase of the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary began this month as crews started moving granite from the port in Morehead City to the project site.
Construction on the 10-acre sanctuary — which is located in Pamlico Sound near the mouth of the Neuse River — started May 11. It is expected to wrap up by the end of June.
In March, truckers began delivering 25,000 tons of granite to the port. From there, Stevens Towing Company, Inc., which has an office in Edenton, is moving the material out to the sanctuary site on a 250-foot barge that holds about 1,000 tons of material.
“These additional acres are a big step forward in achieving our goal of making North Carolina the ‘Napa Valley of Oysters,’” said Todd Miller, executive director for the federation. “We are excited to get the second phase of the project started and to see its continued benefits for the coastal economy and environment.”
These 10 acres will be added to the 15 acres constructed at the site last year. The Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary is the largest project of the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s 50 Million Oyster Initiative. This initiative aims to restore 50 acres of oyster reef by 2020.
With each acre supporting approximately 1 million oysters, that will be 50 million oysters back in North Carolina waters, supporting habitat for countless fish and wildlife. And as each oyster is capable of filtering 50 gallons of water per day, those 50 million oysters together will filter 2.5 billion gallons of water per day.
Oyster sanctuaries provide a place for oysters to repopulate. These acres will not be open to harvest, but nearby cultch planting sites will be. The sanctuary and cultch sites work together to create an interconnected network of oyster reefs, helping improve oyster population numbers and water quality.
“Sanctuary construction is part of a much larger ongoing oyster restoration effort, which includes DMF’s cultch planting program. By strategically coordinating these restoration efforts, oyster sanctuaries can provide larvae to nearby natural oyster habitat and those habitats created by cultch planting,” said Kait DeAeth, oyster sanctuary biologist at the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
In 2017, the federation and partners built 16.2 acres of oyster habitat. In addition to the Swan Island project, DMF and the federation constructed 1.2 acres of reef at Carolina Beach State Park. DMF also constructed 55 acres of cultch sites in 2017, with at least 40 more acres planned for this year. The cultch sites will be open to harvest once oysters reach legal size.
The Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary is made possible through a public-private partnership, and it is funded through a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community-based Habitat Restoration Program, as well as through matching appropriations from the North Carolina General Assembly.
The sanctuary is part of the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network.
The project has created jobs for scientists, barge operators, truck drivers and construction workers. The project benefits continue for years after completion, as oysters improve water quality and fish habitat, both of which are important for North Carolina’s coastal economy.
More information on this project and on oysters is available at nccoast.org/oysters and at ncoysters.org.