Our Goal: Ensure an Abundance of Oysters that Support the Environment and Economy

Our native eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is one of the most important species in our estuaries. Oysters benefit North Carolina’s coastal ecology and economy. These benefits can be summarized and referred to as the three “Fs”, for short: food, filter, and fish habitat. They filter water, provide food for humans and create reefs that build homes for more fish. These environmental benefits, in turn, support jobs and provide economic opportunities for coastal communities.

Oysters in Trouble

Oyster populations, worldwide, are at record lows. Despite some recovery in recent years, in North Carolina, it is estimated that oysters are at about 15-20% of historic harvest levels. Oyster harvest is currently the best measure of the oyster population in our state.

Oysters are at historic lows because of poor water quality, disease and predation, habitat loss, natural disasters, low recruitment and ncreased harvest pressure

Bringing Oysters Back

We’re taking action to build back North Carolina’s oyster resources. Learn more about how we’re working and how you can engage with us to ensure North Carolina boasts thriving oysters that support the coastal environment and economy.

Eastern oysters provide these benefits free of charge.




Oyster Life Cycle Informs Restoration Strategies

Building new oyster reefs is one of the key strategies used to revive North Carolina’s oyster population.

Native or wild oysters produce free floating oyster larvae. These baby oysters require a hard surface to attach to and grow upon within two weeks or they will not survive. Because of this, many restoration efforts concentrate on providing a suitable hard surface for the larvae. The oyster life cycle provides a glimpse into how oysters grow and informs how restoration efforts can be successful. Restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s but more work is still needed.

Partner and Collaborate

Partnerships are Key

When it comes to oysters, the Federation has led a volunteer-based, coastwide Oyster Steering Committee since 2003. This committee brings together diverse stakeholders to develop a set of common goals and actions to be realized in building back our state’s oyster resources.

These priority goals and actions are the basis of the strategic North Carolina Oyster Blueprint, currently in its fourth edition. Committee members help to prioritize and implement the agreed upon actions. By working together, projects are based in science, strategically implemented, and strive to engage a diverse group of partners.

Oyster Blueprint 2021-2025

National Significance

Several of the priority actions in the Oyster Blueprint are recognized for complementing and supporting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Shellfish Initiative. To that end, in 2018, the state of North Carolina joined this national initiate as the 6th state in the country, and first in the southeast. The Shellfish Initiative recognizes the importance of partnering with shellfish farmers and shellfish restoration organizations with the goal to increase populations of bivalve shellfish in our nation’s coastal waters—including oysters, clams, and mussels—through both sustainable commercial production and restoration activities.

We invite you to learn more about the oyster steering committee, strategic oyster blueprint document or the state’s engagement with the national shellfish initiative.

oyster roast © Daniel Pullen
© Daniel Pullen

Oysters in 2024

In 2024, the Federation and partners have big plans.  We continue to make great strides in implementing the NC Oyster Blueprint– the statewide effort that outlines bold actions that the Federation and partners are taking to advance oyster restoration, protection, growing, harvesting and education efforts in the state. This work is being assisted with over $16 million dollars in National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant funds and state appropriations. Starting this year, these funds will allow us to construct at least 100 acres of new oyster habitat. Additional state appropriations and grants are supporting the state’s first aquaculture hub development- a collective space that will support shellfish growers with waterfront access, gear storage, refrigeration and other land-based support for their operations. In 2024 we will also double our shell recycling efforts to collect at least 6,000 bushels of recycled oyster shells, and complete an evaluation of opportunities to expand the recycling program to new areas of the state. Furthermore, key oyster communication and education efforts that include the N.C. Oyster Trail and an interactive oyster display at the Roanoke Island Aquarium will continue to be supported.


acres of new oyster habitat built


million oysters monitored with the oyster sanctuary


bushels of shell recycled along the coast

Featured Projects

oyster shell recycling
© Jenny Crofton

How You Can Help

Oyster Resources

Our Coast Spring 2024
| Our Coast
This edition of the Coastal Federation's Our Coast publication covers several exciting new updates on the 4 main program areas including salt marsh, water quality, oysters, and marine debris.
The cover of the North Carolina Coastal Federation's Winter 2024 Our Coast Edition
| Our Coast
This edition of the Coastal Federation's Our Coast publication welcomes our new Executive Director, Dr. Braxton Davis as well as introduces the Federation's new Salt Marsh Program. This edition also covers the goals of the 3 other main program areas including water quality, oysters, and marine debris.
The cover of the North Carolina Coastal Federation's Fall 2023 Our Coast Edition
| Our Coast
This edition of the Coastal Federation's Our Coast publication covers the Federation's efforts across all program areas. It also looks forward to 2024 and what the upcoming year holds for the NC Coast.
oyster recycling
| Maps
Shell recycling drop-off sites are located at the Coastal Federation’s three regional offices and in the following counties: Brunswick, Carteret, Craven, Dare, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pamlico, and Pender. Explore the map below to find a shell recycling site near you.
Oyster Shell Recycling Toolkit
This toolkit includes FAQs about oyster shell recycling, fun facts, signage, social media posts, photos and videos.
State of the Oyster Report 2022
This annual State of the Oyster Report, provides a brief overview and highlights the activities and accomplishments of the diverse partners involved in this work for the year 2022.
Oyster Sanctuaries 2022
| Maps
View a map of the current NC Oyster Sanctuary Network
oyster restoration project map cover image
| Maps
The North Carolina Coastal Federation has developed a working map of sites along the North Carolina coast where oyster restoration projects have been built. This map features descriptions, photos, funding agencies and more.
NOAA Officials present North Carolina Coastal Federation with a ceremonial check for grant funding
Coordinated by the North Carolina Coastal Federation, the two-day event brought together educators, elected officials, local, state, and federal representatives, environmental groups, and others invested in the health of the state’s oysters. Attendees heard panel discussions, and presentations on past and planned work, watched an oyster shucking contest, and enjoyed oysters from farmers along the coast. 
NC Oyster Trail Website
| Website
The NC Oyster Trail is a grassroots effort from people who love our state’s oysters. Use the NC Oyster Trail website to plan your next oyster adventure!

Contact Erin Fleckenstein, erinf@nccoast.org, with any questions about the Oyster Steering Committee or to get involved in this coastwide effort.

living shoreline © Daniel Pullen

The Restoration Continues

You can support even more oyster restoration by Adopting an Oyster.