oyster reefs promotes jobs and the environment
By PAT GARBER
reef restoration, new green jobs, and a blue sky were all part of an
Earth Day get-together on Spurgeon Stowe’s headboat, the Miss Hatteras,
on Monday, April 19. More than 40 people gathered at Oden’s
in Hatteras village and prepared to climb aboard the boat and head out
into Pamlico Sound.
destination was a shallow stretch of water called Clam Shoal, where an
artificial oyster reef was being constructed. Their purpose
to celebrate Earth Day by learning about and sharing information about
this North Carolina Estuary Habitat Restoration project.
importance of the project and others like it became apparent during the
course of the day, as a number of speakers described how oyster reefs
serve as natural breakwaters and provide habitat not only for oysters
but for fish and other marine life.
oysters themselves filter and clean the water as they feed, improving
water quality, as well as providing jobs for oyster harvesters and
delicious cuisine for seafood lovers. Commercial and sport
fishermen benefit from the creation of the reefs, and the construction
work itself provides jobs for a number of North Carolinians, from the
quarry workers who provide the limestone marl which is being used to
create the reef, to truckers who deliver it, to tug boat crew members
and backhoe operators who place it on the shoal.
benefits, and for North Carolina, it is a win-win situation.
project is a collaborative effort by a number of groups, including the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, The North
Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, the North Carolina Coastal
Federation, North Carolina State University, the University of
North Carolina Wilmington, and North Carolina Sea Grant, as
as Stevens Towing and Cape Dredging.
North Carolina Coastal Federation, which has been working on reef
restoration projects with other state organizations since 2006, wrote
the proposal requesting funding from NOAA. The
comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which
provides monies to “put Americans to work while restoring our coasts
and combating climate change.”
are 50 such projects nationwide, ranging from New England’s salt
marshes to the coral reefs of the Pacific Islands, chosen from more
than 800 proposals. About $167 million was provided to NOAA by the
Recovery Act to fund these marine and coastal habitat restoration
projects, of which $5 million was designated for North Carolina’s
oyster reef restoration.
air was nippy as the Miss Hatteras set out, but the water was calm and
the ride smooth. Along the way we passed the Island Express,
tugboat which makes the continuous 60-mile run from Belhaven to Clam
Shoal and then back, running 24 hours a day, pushing the barges that
shuttle the rock for reef-building. Simon Rich, manager of
Stevens Towing, the company that owns the tugs and barges, explained
that the barges deliver 600 pounds of rock per day, weather
permitting. A smaller tug, which draws less water, is used to
push the barges across the shallows to the project.
shout drew our attention as we approached the oyster reef, and we
looked out at a small tugboat and a large black barge loaded with
rock. The rock is a sedimentary limestone marl, composed
of fossilized shells, brought over from a quarry near New
On the deck of the barge, a huge green and orange excavator was lifting
shovelfuls of the marl and lowering them into the water, depositing
them in cone-shaped piles whose positions were determined and marked
with buoys ahead of time by North Carolina Marine Fisheries
shape and positioning were designed to be optimal oyster habitat,
allowing maximum hard surface areas as well as sufficient room for
aeration and growth. Oyster larvae, or spat, would be allowed
naturally colonize the reef. The top of the mounds were about
feet under water, allowing clearance for boats to pass
The reef created would be an oyster nursery, meant not for harvesting
but for procreation.
anchoring at the site, we were joined by several of the men who were
working on the project, and then we all gathered in the stern of the
Burrus, Dare County commissioner, welcomed everyone and gave a brief
introduction. Other speakers included John Gray, NOAA
Legislative and Government Affairs NOAA and ARRA Projects, who reminded
us that this was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day and of
He talked about the projects NOAA was overseeing, creating what he
called blue-green jobs and restoring more than 8,000 acres of
next speaker was Dr. Louis Daniel, Director of the North Carolina
Marine Fisheries, who addressed the value of oyster habitat restoration
in North Carolina and stressed the fact that fish depletion was due not
only to overfishing but also to poor water quality, which would be
improved by the oyster reefs.
Miller, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation,
acknowledged and thanked the men who were working on the reef, and
Darren Burrus, head of the Cape Dredging Company of Buxton, said that
they would love to continue the work. Miller also
Christina Miller, who wrote the proposal for the oyster reef project,
and other staff members of NCCF. Simon Rich III, Managing
of Stevens Towing, stressed the importance of the jobs created, which
allowed him to put back to work men he had been forced to lay
of the highlights of the day was the surprise presentation of
NOAA’s Excellence in Restoration award to the North Carolina
Coastal Federation. John Gray presented the award to Todd
describing how Todd had started the organization in 1982 and how the
organization, now comprised of 18 staff members, had worked to make
this and other projects like it possible.
discussion was shared during a lunch of local seafood prepared by
Kaia’s Kitchen in Hatteras village.
reefs in North Carolina,” stated Craig Hardy of the North Carolina
Marine Fisheries, “have been fished on for many years.
and sharpies were used way back for dredging pristine oyster beds, and
they have gradually declined. The Clam Shoal project is being
built on a previously existing artificially created reef.”
Eggleston, Director of the Center for Marine Sciences and Technology at
N.C. State University, explained the student oyster restoration work
which he oversees. High school students in Dare, Hyde, and
Carteret Counties measure oyster spat settlement by hanging strings
from docks near their homes and then counting the number of oysters
which attach themselves to the strings. Graduate students at
work on such projects as studying oyster fecundity and circulation and
determining the usage of previously built reefs by finfish.
construction at Clam Shoal has been slowed down somewhat by wind and
bad weather, but is expected to be completed by the first week of May,
when oyster larvae, or spat, are moving in the water.
of other reefs is expected to continue in the Pamlico Sound, including
an upcoming project near Ocracoke Island. With lunch over,
men from the project returned to the dredge to continue their reef
building, and the Miss Hatteras headed back to Oden’s Dock, returning
her guests to shore.
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