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VA Restoration Project Creates Oyster Reefs from Tons of Concrete

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Monday, August 3, 2020   

Correction: 08/03/2020 12:38 p.m. CST - Army Corps of Engineers received $10 million in federal funding, not Lynnhaven River NOW.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A unique restoration partnership in Virginia enters a new phase as tons of crushed concrete are being deposited into the Lynnhaven River to rebuild oyster habitat lost to over-harvesting.

Virginia Beach is partnering with the Lynnhaven River NOW project by providing the concrete from sidewalks and streets that have been torn up. Brent James, oyster restoration coordinator with Lynnhaven River NOW, said concrete is chemically similar to oyster shells - both contain calcium carbonate, which attracts baby oysters.

And 35,000 tons of concrete will go into 12 acres in the river's western branch. James said it has the potential to grow millions of oysters that filter water.

"A full-grown oyster will filter anywhere from 20 to 50 gallons a day," said James. "So, you get the water clarity better. So then, you start getting the entire ecosystem restoring back to what it should be in its natural state. And that's the goal of what we're doing."

The Army Corps of Engineers received $10 million in federal funding in 2018 to apply to the restoration project, which is expected to cost about $34 million.

Other groups in the collaboration include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Atlantic Coast Fish Habitat Partnership.

Kent Smith, who chairs the steering committee for the Partnership, says the Lynnhaven River is a high priority for restoration. It's a major fish habitat for striped bass, red drum, spot and croaker.

"The project really is just a great example of something we look for in funding or endorsing a project," said Smith. "It's the type of program demonstrating that the methods that they use here are actually going to result in significant fish habitat restoration."

Virginia Beach residents like Chris Schellhammer also are supportive of the project. He said it's important because of the environmental benefits it will bring to the community.

"It's incredibly valuable," said Schellhammer. "I mean, these oysters, each one of them is like a mini filter. They've been referred to as a keystone species, in the sense that if they're plentiful and doing well, then other things do, too."

Because Lynnhaven River NOW is using a non-natural material to build the oyster reefs, this most recent phase of the project still needs extra permits from the Commonwealth of Virginia to continue.

Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.


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