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

To reach this goal, the Federation and partners built 40 acres of reef at the Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary and 154 acres of harvestable cultch reefs throughout the state. The sanctuary is part of the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network. 



Swan Island Sanctuary Overview:

  • It is located in the Pamlico Sound near the mouth of the Neuse River.
  • It created 40 acres of the protected oyster sanctuary.
  • It was built with 80,600 tons of material, consisting of 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.
  • As part of this project, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries planted 154 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.



Ted Wilgis, a Coastal Scientist with the federation, holds an example oyster growing marl in Dick’s Bay next to Masonboro Island Wednesday, December 14, 2011. Staff Photo By Matt Born WILMINGTON STAR NEWS


Funding for all three phases of the project came from nearly $3 million 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.