Recent Lafayette River surveys show population not just surviving, but thriving in healthy ecosystem

Hundreds of oysters counted per square meter
Lafayette River oyster reef.PNG
Posted at 11:09 PM, Mar 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 23:35:24-05

NORFOLK, Va. - Oysters aren't just for the seafood platter! All those shells play a huge role in our local environment.

Reefs built in Norfolk’s Lafayette River are thriving beyond expectations. Experts we spoke with Thursday told us oysters don't just improve water quality - they do so much more.

"Oh, here's a pretty one,” said Julie Luecke, an oyster restoration specialist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

Wading out at low tide, she hand counts the number of oysters per square meter.

"I see a lot of good-sized oysters here; some pretty clumps," said Luecke.

To be considered a healthy reef system, an oyster reef should have a minimum of 50 oysters per square meter. Here in the Lafayette River, they pull out hundreds.

"It's been a great success,” says Daniel Faggert from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

"One adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water in a day. They're filter feeders, which means they take in water, pick out the food they want, take out all the nasty things from the water, package them up so they can be broken down really easily,” says Julie. “So, they're providing clean water to this river system."

On the Lafayette, more than 4,500 of these little oyster castles have been installed, along with hundreds of reef balls that provide a hard surface for the oysters to attach themselves.

"Not only is the reef providing key habitat and improving water quality, but, you know, throughout the Lafayette River system, this reef is acting as a nursery ground to help repopulate the oysters," said Faggert.

The reefs include oysters of all ages and sizes, which proves that they're reproducing and will continue to grow.

"It's really great to see these restorations taking place in rivers that were kind of my backyard. I grew up a lot in the Lynnhaven River, which is another one of the designated trips have spent a lot of time when I lived over here in Norfolk as well,” said Chris Moore, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “So, I'm seeing the benefits in terms of more oysters, more crabs, more fish as we continue to see these restoration routes be successful."

The oysters have had a ripple effect as the entire ecosystem near the reefs have flourished as well because the oysters provide shelter and protection for over 300 species of plants and animals.

Related: Gov. Northam announces $10 million investment to support Chesapeake Bay oyster restoration during Norfolk visit