Work on oyster sanctuary in the Pamlico Sound underway

CARTERET COUNTY, N.C. (WITN) – As worldwide oyster populations struggle, the state and North Carolina Coastal Federation are working together to restore oyster populations here in the east.

Rocks by the barge full are getting dropped into a section of the Pamlico Sound as part of an oyster sanctuary project.

“The idea is that we build these reefs by putting material on the bottom like you the granite see behind us,” says Jordan Byrum, the artificial reef coordinator with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries. “We build these in strategic locations in Pamlico Sound where oyster larvae will settle, they’ll grow to adult oysters and spawn to other areas in the Sound that are in need.”

Oyster sanctuaries work exactly like their name suggests. Experts say they provide a haven for millions of oysters to grow.

“They are very small but their impact is very large in the sound both from the water quality and filtration perspective, the way they are able to spawn and help with the wild oyster reefs in the sound and then the fish habitat that they’re providing,” says Erin Fleckenstein, a scientist with the Coastal Federation.

Oyster populations have been struggling for the past century. That’s why the Division of Marine Fisheries began their oyster restoration program nearly 30 years ago.

“This has been going on since 1996 we’ve built basically from Roanoke Island to here in the Southern Pamlico Sound,” Byrum says.

Sixteen years ago, the North Carolina Coastal Federation joined in on the effort.

“We got involved in oyster sanctuary work in 2008 when NOAA announced their American Recovery and Reinvestment funding and we helped to bring some logistical connections as well as funding support to the Division of Marine Fisheries for the oyster sanctuary construction,” Fleckenstein says.

The work is continuing in the Pamlico Sound this spring and summer. There, the groups hope to construct another 30 to 40 acres.

“This year we’re ramping up we’ve got more material and more acreage built than we ever have in a single year and we’re poised to continue that for the next two years,” Byrum says.

The NC Division of Marine Fisheries and NC Coastal Federation have almost reached their goal of building 500 acres of oyster sanctuaries.

Once they hit that mark they will then evaluate if more are needed.