The North Carolina Coastal Federation launched the 50 Million Oyster Initiative in 2017, with a goal of establishing 50 acres of new oyster habitat in the state by 2020.

To reach this goal, the federation and partners are building 40 acres of reef at the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary. These acres are part of the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network. Additional acres of oyster reef are being built throughout the state.

Swan Island Sanctuary Overview:

  • It is located in the Pamlico Sound near the mouth of the Neuse River.
  • It creates nearly 40 acres of protected oyster reef.
  • It was built with both limestone marl and granite, purchased from a North Carolina quarry.
  • Its construction annually supported ~56 jobs including private contractors, construction workers, scientists, university researchers, state agency employees and fishermen.

Support for Commercial Harvest

  • The sanctuary serves as a nursery to help repopulate nearby harvestable cultch reefs.
  • Annually, as part of this project, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries planted 40-55 acres of harvestable cultch reefs throughout the state.
  • Cultch reefs provide a place for spat — baby oysters — to land and grow. They are open to harvest once oysters reach legal harvest size at 3 inches (typically within 2-3 years of planting).
  • The cultch reefs and oyster sanctuary work together to create an interconnected network of oyster reefs in the sound.


Goal 2

Year 1:

  • Approximately 30,600 tons of limestone marl were used for the first stage of the project. It took about 1,300 dump truck loads to bring the material to the South River facility, where it was then loaded on to a barge. Each barge load held ~1,000 tons of material, making ~30 trips to the reef site to fully deploy the material.
  • Watch a video of a deployment.
  • Over fifteen acres of oyster sanctuary were constructed, supporting approximately 15 million oysters.
  • In addition, nearly 55 acres of harvestable cultch reefs were built throughout the state.


Year 2:

  • Approximately 25,000 tons of granite were added to the reef site.
  • Ten acres of oyster sanctuary were built adding 10 million oysters to the sound.
  • In addition, 47 acres of harvestable cultch reefs were built throughout the state.



Ted Wilgis, a Coastal Education Coordinator with the federation, holds an example of an oyster found in one of the reefs that was created with marl in 2007 in Dick’s Bay next to Masonboro Island Wednesday, December 14, 2011. Staff Photo By Matt Born WILMINGTON STAR NEWS

Year 3:                                             

  • Approximately 25,000 tons of marl were added to the reef site.
  • Nearly 12 acres of oyster sanctuary were built, bringing the total sanctuary to approximately 40 acres and nearly 40 million oysters added to the sound.
  • In addition, 52 acres of harvestable cultch reefs were built throughout the state.

Funding for all three phases of the project came from: nearly $3M in state appropriations, $3M in support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Community-based Restoration Program, Grady-White boats and donations from federation members.

Read a handout about the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary.

The Restoration Continues

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

Oyster Sanctuaries in Pamlico Sound

Did you know?

  • One acre of oyster reef supports nearly one million oysters in Pamlico Sound
  • Oyster sanctuaries make up approximately 6% of all oyster reefs in Pamlico Sound but contribute nearly 40% of the oyster population. They produce baby oysters that “seed” harvestable reefs and serve as an insurance policy for the Sound’s oyster population in the face of man-made or natural disasters.
  •  There are currently 15 Oyster sanctuaries in Pamlico Sound as part of the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network. They cover approximately 260 acres of the Sound (less that 0.1% of the sound).
  • Oyster sanctuaries are closed to commercial harvest but open to hook and line fishing.

2018 photos from Phase 2 of the project:


Check out 2017 photos from Phase 1 of the project: