Oyster restoration key for cleaning Hampton River

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – Something you might find surprising: Storm water is the number one source of pollution in the Hampton River, according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

To combat that, local groups are turning to something you might not expect: oysters.

10 On Your Side spoke with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation Monday about their work to clean it up. They use oysters as a natural filtration system.

With roughly 140,000 residents sharing about 50 square miles of water, replenishing the oysters is necessary to keep the waterway clean. The population is low because of pollution, and because of people consuming the oysters.

Folks with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation say the clean-up of the Hampton River began in 2012, when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality listed it as an impaired waterway.

Jackie Shannon, Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said, “There’s not that much forested buffer and so when it rains, a lot of the hardened surfaces, pollution that exists there gets washed off into the river.”

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation started working with other groups to see how they could clean up the water. One of their initiatives is oyster restoration.

Heather North, Oyster Restoration Specialist, said, “A single adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day in the summer month, and that’s a lot of water for one oyster.”

They’re working with students from Hampton University on the oyster restoration. One of those students, Jonathan Rogers, said, “Our Hampton River, our environment, the ecology of the river, the biodiversity of the river depends on it. Oysters play a major role in all of that.”

As part of their research, the students placed strings of oyster shells in different parts of the waterway between May and October of this year to find the best spots for the oysters to grow.

“Basically we look for the baby oysters, which is oyster spat, which collects on the hard shell strings,” said Kyle Farrington, one of the other Hampton University students.

They found that the best spot was right near Hampton University. That, plus being involved in the project, meant a lot to the students.

Farrington said, “It’s something that I can say I’ve given back to the Hampton area. It’s also instrumental because it’s the first research done on the Hampton River, being on oyster spats.”

Oyster restoration isn’t the only project in the works to clean up the water. They are also working on rain garden installations and shoreline installations along the Hampton River.