RESEEDING THE OYSTER BEDS
RTIFICIAL reefs in the Cape Fear region are predominantly offshore to encourage ocean-dwelling life closer to land. But the river has
itself become home to an artificial reef, constructed as an oyster sanctuary. It was the first stage of a long-term effort to restore the
river’s oyster population, minimized over time.
“Recently there’s been a big focus on artificial reefs’ economic benefits,” says Ted Wilgis, coastal education coordinator with the
North Carolina Coastal Federation. “Oyster farming has really taken off in the state. There is a lot of potential for it to be a very big industry
and to take some of the pressure off of the wild stock. The Cape Fear River used to have a lot of oysters in it, but the river has been so altered
through dredging for the port that a lot of those reefs have been lost. But each year, there’s this huge reproduction of oysters. You see all of
these baby oysters everywhere, so we know there are enough oysters in there
to repopulate reefs. We just need to build the reefs.”
The NCDMF, which falls under the purview of the North Carolina
Department of Environmental Quality, partnered with the Coastal
Federation to build AR-491 in the Cape Fear River at Carolina Beach State
Park, just south of Snow’s Cut. The work performed in November 2017 cre-ated
about one-fifth of the planned five-acre reef, which is in a part of the
river closed to shellfishing.
“That reef is unique as it is the only reef in North Carolina that is acces-sible
from shore,” Byrum says. “At low tide, you can walk right out there. We
built it using about 7,000 tons of small, crushed concrete, think golf ball- to
baseball-sized pieces. It will grow some oysters and be a great place to fish.”
N.C. DIVISION OF MARINE FISHERIES
The partnership between the Coastal Federation and the NCDMF serves
each organization’s purpose. The federation is a nonprofit that focuses on
advocacy, education, habitat restoration, water quality and outreach to pro-tect
the coast, while the DMF focuses on increasing and supporting com-mercial
and recreational fishing opportunities throughout the state. Artificial
reefs are essential for both groups.
For the federation, the more areas where oysters can thrive, the more ben-efits
to the state’s coastal water quality and economy. Oysters and oyster reefs
act as natural water filters and also protect the shorelines from erosion.
“You have this wonderful species and habitat, oysters and oyster reefs, that
do a lot of things for free, but have been decimated,” Wilgis says. “For every
dollar you put in for oyster restoration, about four dollars comes back in
Federally collected taxes on equipment for fishing and boating help to
fund things like the construction of artificial reefs and other efforts of the
NCDMF. The division also receives state money, primarily from the purchase
of coastal recreational fishing licenses with those funds strictly earmarked for
N.C. COASTAL FEDERATION
“FOR EVERY DOLLAR YOU PUT IN
FOR OYSTER RESTORATION, ABOUT
FOUR DOLLARS COMES BACK IN
Clockwise from top: The North Carolina Coastal Federation
and North Carolina Department of Marine Fisheries
partnered to build AR-491, an oyster reef in the Cape Fear
River at Carolina Beach State Park, in November 2017.
Oyster shells grow on a rock in a tidal zone.
WBM february 2019