By the numbers

140 Million Oysters

  • Restored: 43 acres of oyster reef habitat
  • Filtered: 7 billion gallons of water daily
  • Supported: Millions of fish and wildlife

The Restoration Continues

You can support even more oyster restoration by supporting Adopt an Oyster.

From 2017 to 2020, the Federation and partners worked to build 40 acres of new oyster reef and support at least 50 million oysters. Known as the 50 Million Oyster Initiative, this project proved to be tremendously successful, nearly tripling the initial goal.

The initiative launched in Pamlico Sound, where the Federation, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries and partners created 40 acres of new oyster sanctuary between 2017 and 2019 at the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary. Monitoring by the Division at the end of the project indicated oyster densities as high as 2,000 oysters per meter squared on this reef. This translates to roughly 136 million oysters. This monitoring also showed that the sanctuaries constitute only 6% of all the reefs in the sound, but provide 20% of all the oysters in the Pamlico Sound, illustrating their importance to the entire ecosystem.

In addition to the highly successful Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary, an additional 3.5 acres of oyster reef were created as living shorelines and patch reefs throughout the state along private property and in harvestable waters. Monitoring results from these patch reefs indicate they also support high densities of oysters.

All in all, the 50 Million Oyster Initiative resulted in the restoration of nearly 140 Million oysters throughout coastal North Carolina, nearly three times the initial goal. With each adult oyster capable of filtering 50 gallons of water per day, those 140 million oysters will filter seven billion gallons of water– every single day.

An Investment in the Coast

The 50 Million Oyster Initiative put all of the oysters’ many benefits to work, short-term and long-term. It provided jobs for contractors, fishermen, construction workers, truck drivers, and many others during reef construction. The reefs are now busy providing fish habitat and improving water quality, which benefits both commercial and recreational fishermen, the tourism industry, and the coastal environment as a whole for years to come. Learn more about how the Federation’s work supports the local economy:

The 50 Million Oyster Initiative was funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, through state appropriations from the North Carolina General Assembly, state grant funds from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund (now the Land and Water Fund) for oyster habitat in living shorelines, foundation support from Grady White Boats, the Camp Younts Foundation, the Campbell Foundation, and contributions and membership support from donors like you.

Oysters are the cornerstone of our estuaries, and when oysters are healthy, the coastal environment and economy grow.


If you have questions, please contact Erin Fleckenstein, Oyster Program Director at or 252-473-1607.