Thursday, June 5, 2014

Governor McAuliffe Announces $500,000 Nature Conservancy Grant

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Governor McAuliffe Announces $500,000 Nature Conservancy Grant For Large-scale Oyster Sanctuary in the Piankatank River

NEWPORT NEWS, VA.--Governor Terry McAuliffe today announced a $500,000 grant from The Nature Conservancy to support the construction of a large-scale oyster sanctuary in the Piankatank River near Fishing Bay in Middlesex County, a project aimed at bolstering oyster stocks throughout the river.

Construction on the $3.8 million project—a joint venture between the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, The Nature Conservancy, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—began on May 26, 2014. Additional sanctuary reefs at the location will be constructed next year. The sanctuary is situated in a part of the river that will provide optimal oyster larvae distribution through the river, increasing the chances the larvae will produce oysters far beyond the sanctuary's boundaries.

"This oyster sanctuary will help clean the water, provide habitat for crabs and fish, and will be a prime source of larvae to create future generations of oysters in the Piankatank River,'' said Governor McAuliffe. "I am deeply grateful for The Nature Conservancy's generous grant to help make all this happen. This is an exciting initiative."

The project is part of the Corps' goal to restore 10 Virginia tributaries for native oysters by 2025. The $500,000 grant, given to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), will be the state's funding match for the first phase of the project. The reef will be off-limits to oyster harvesting.

"Through the support of our donors, we are pleased to provide the essential funding to move this large-scale oyster project forward,” said Michael Lipford, Virginia Director of The Nature Conservancy. “This represents a great public-and-private partnership that will benefit recreational fisheries, the oyster industry and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

The Conservancy’s grant to VMRC for the non-federal match component of this project was made possible by two grants from The Mary Morton Parsons Foundation and the Virginia Environmental Endowment that were matched by private donors and public funds.

A single adult oyster can purge as many as 50 gallons of water a day. Large-scale reefs are necessary to achieve a self-sustaining oyster population in a water body. Focusing ecological restoration efforts at a large-scale is the strategy most likely to ensure that large populations of oysters persist in the face of oyster diseases and other environmental factors.

"Over my past two and a half years, I have been continually amazed by the ingenuity I find among the various groups with whom we serve," said Colonel Paul Olsen, 57th Commander of the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The use of recycled concrete, in lieu of valuable oyster shell, for our Nation's sanctuary reefs is just one example of how this ingenuity directly translates into affordable, effective, and sustainable projects for the region."

The reef project will experiment with the use of clean ground concrete as substrate. Ground concrete is less expensive than building the entire reef out of oyster shells. Building the reef foundation with clean ground concrete will allow the state to conserve oyster shells for oyster aquaculture operations and for VMRC's annual oyster replenishment program, where empty oyster shells serve their most productive uses.

"We need a less costly, equally safe and effective substrate for our oyster sanctuary reefs so we can continue the tremendous progress we have made in restoring Virginia's oyster harvests through replenishment shell plantings and to continue to surge in the production of oyster aquaculture products," said John M.R. Bull, Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner.

The clean ground concrete, the size of an oyster shell, will be transported by truck to a mobilization site and loaded onto boats by a loader and conveyor and then deployed within the sanctuary boundaries.

The four partners in this project, VMRC, TNC, the Corps, and NOAA will monitor the sanctuary to determine if this type of substrate can be used successfully and safely in future oyster reef sanctuaries. The Virginia Marine Police will work to ensure the sanctuary remains off limits to all oyster harvesters.
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