NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — When it comes to improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, experts say oysters are part of the solution.
There’s a large restoration effort underway in Norfolk’s Lafayette River to increase the oyster population with the hopes of decreasing bacteria levels.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is leading the effort to collect used oyster shells, clean them, harvest baby oysters and dump the shells back into the water.
“We’re trying to increase the population of oysters,” said Heather North. “They filter the water. A single adult oyster can filter water in the summer months up to 50 gallons of water a day.”
Staff and volunteers dumped more than 400,000 oysters into the Lafayette River over a three-day period this week. The foundation plans to put five million oysters in the water this summer.
Since 2010, more than 60 million oysters have been dumped on more than 60 acres of oyster reef built by the foundation and their partners.
The reefs provide a place for the oysters to grow and also provide a home for fish, crabs and hundreds of other organisms.
“The shell does millions of millions of times better going back into the water than sitting in the landfill doing nothing,” said North.
The goal of the recycling project is to improve water quality for those who live on or near the water and those people who use the water for recreation.
“Everybody wants clean water,” said Jackie Shannon. “I don’t think anyone is going to say that they don’t, and we all benefit from having a healthy, thriving Chesapeake Bay.”
Shannon says the Lafayette River, once deemed not safe for swimming or recreation due to high bacteria levels, has proved to be a success story thanks to their efforts and work by the city of Norfolk.
“This holistic approach that we’ve gone about has ultimately led to the Lafayette River being delisted for bacteria levels, which is a huge piece of evidence that this work has been meaningful,” said Shannon.
The foundation says they want to replicate their success in tributaries nearby in the years to come.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has oyster recycling efforts in place in communities across the region, including Gloucester, Newport News, Chesapeake, Hampton and Smithfield.