Wednesday, June 12, 2024

NOAA Marks a Major Oyster Restoration Milestone in Virginia’s York River

Representatives from partners in York River oyster restoration placed oyster shells on a York River reef to ceremonially complete the project. (NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office)

ANNAPOLIS — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and its partners recently celebrated progress toward restoring oyster reef habitats in 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025.

At an Earth Day 2024 event, Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced that work to restore oyster reefs in the York River is complete. The York River, located in NOAA’s Middle Peninsula Habitat Focus Area, is the eighth tributary to be declared to be restored, part of what NOAA touts as the world’s largest oyster restoration project.

“It is my privilege to commemorate this year’s Earth Day by officially announcing and celebrating the completion of the Lower York River Oyster Restoration Goal. By reaching this restoration goal, we are sending a clear message that this administration’s year-round commitment to preserve our natural resources is unwavering,” said Youngkin. “As Virginians, we are blessed to be surrounded by an abundance of treasured natural resources and we will protect them.”

NOAA and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission conducted the project, which restored more than 200 acres of habitat, it said.

Restored Reefs Provide Important Habitat

NOAA says it believes that restoring oyster reef habitat is important because oysters — and the reefs they form — provide important benefits. Oyster reefs are important habitats for many commercially and recreationally significant fish and shellfish. Reefs give juvenile fish a place to hide from predators. Oysters are filter feeders, so they help improve water quality as they eat.

“NOAA is excited to celebrate not only the tremendous work to restore more than 200 acres of oyster reef in the York River — and the habitat these reefs will provide for species including black sea bass, summer flounder, and blue crabs — but also to highlight the partnership among Virginia agencies and NOAA that made it happen,” said Sunny Snider, deputy director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Habitat Conservation.

NOAA’s Sunny Snider signs one of the oyster shells that was later planted in the York River. (NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office)

Healthy Reefs Support the Economy

Having more habitat and cleaner water is also good for people and the economy, NOAA said. Research shows that in one Chesapeake river, having restored reefs would lead to a 160 percent increase in the annual blue crab harvest.

“I am extremely proud of our Shellfish Management Division and the pivotal role that we have played in this historic achievement, which not only supports the most economically important commercial fishery in Virginia but also sets a precedent for sustainable coastal conservation efforts nationwide,” said Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Jamie Green.

Restored Tributaries

Eight tributaries have been restored toward the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal:


  • Harris Creek
  • Little Choptank River
  • Tred Avon River
  • Upper St. Mary’s River


  • Lafayette River
  • Piankatank River
  • Great Wicomico River
  • Lower York River

NOAA noted Virginia added an eleventh “bonus” tributary, the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River, while work continues in Virginia’s Lynnhaven River and Maryland’s Manokin River.

NOAA Plays Important Roles in Restoration

NOAA chairs the Maryland and Virginia workgroups that guide large-scale oyster reef restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. These groups do the planning and coordinate the implementation and construction of the projects. In the York River, NOAA scientists use sonar to map the bottom of the river where the reef projects are planned. They and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will track the health of those restoration reefs after restoration to make sure they succeed, it said.

In addition, NOAA provided funding to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to support the York River project.

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