ALMOST THERE: RECOVERY OF LAFAYETTE OYSTERS!
July 7, 2017, NORFOLK - Today Elizabeth River Project celebrated our progress with many partners, and key federal funding, in bringing the Lafayette branch of the Elizabeth River to closer than any other Virginia river to fully restored for native oyster populations.
Two mayors, two Congressmen and other officials celebrated reaching 93% of the goal prescribed for the Lafayette by bay scientists, ceremonially adding 300,000 more oysters on the newest of 11 oyster reefs Elizabeth River Project has recently restored in the Lafayette.
Throughout the morning, speakers thanked US Reps. Bobby Scott and Scott Taylor, who attended, for core federal funding that has “made local dollars stretch far enough to bring this big achievement in sight,” as Marjorie Mayfield Jackson, Executive Director, Elizabeth River Project, put it. “We’re at the tipping point,” she said, with oysters now surviving to a size larger than found almost anywhere in the Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources Molly Ward, Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Alexandar and Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe were among officials joining Elizabeth River Project and co-host Chesapeake Bay Foundation for the event, along with the Congressmen. Officials boarded a regatta of boats at Norfolk Yacht and Country Club to plant the oysters on the newest reef under construction by Elizabeth River Project, a 4.5 acre reef near the mouth of the Lafayette.
“This is a team sport,” Congressman Taylor said, praising the collaboration behind the Lafayette’s oyster success. The Elizabeth River Project and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation began working together in 2009 to organize multiple partners to restore the Lafayette branch of the Elizabeth River, starting with funding from the federal Chesapeake Bay Program through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant.
Additional federal funding has paired with local and state funding to make additional progress, with NOAA funding the most recent oyster reef and partner Chesapeake Bay Foundation adding live oysters and “oyster reef balls” there. All told, Chesapeake Bay Foundation has added 40 million “spat” or young oysters to restored reefs.
Elizabeth River Project, VA Marine Resources Commission, the US Army Corps of Engineers and multiple partners have created more than 22 acres of new sanctuary oyster reef in the Lafayette, adding to 48 acres of existing ancient reefs and nearly meeting a goal of 80-acres to declare the Lafayette branch of the Elizabeth River fully restored.
Officials called for continued progress and thanked Scott and Taylor for their leadership to reverse the President’s proposed elimination of the federal Chesapeake Bay Program, whose grants have played a broad role not only in oyster restoration, but in many other efforts to restore the Elizabeth River and Chesapeake Bay. “Congress will have the last say,” Congressman Scott told the crowd. “And I think that money will be put right back.”
Thanks to these efforts the Lafayette is close to being a great success story, as the once-polluted urban river has seen the oyster population rebound along with a drop in bacteria levels and other pollutants. “When you bring back the oyster, you bring back so much more,” says Jackson. In 2016 Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality removed the Lafayette from the state’s list of waterways where high bacteria levels threaten recreation.
Additional participants included Col. Jason E. Kelly, Commander, Norfolk District, US Army Corps of Engineers; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Chesapeake Bay Office Acting Director Sean Corson, donors and board members of CBF, ERP, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.