Oyster Restoration Timeline

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The purpose of the Executive Order 13508, Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Executive Order, is "to protect and restore the health, heritage, natural resources, and social and economic value of the nation's largest estuarine ecosystem and the natural sustainability of its watershed."

One of the Corps' primary missions is ecosystem restoration and protection through collaboration and partnership. Since 1984, the Corps has been a vital component of the Chesapeake Bay restoration and protection efforts, and the Corps continues to work closely with government and local agencies, and non-governmental organizations to advance bay restoration efforts.

The Norfolk District's mission is the ecological restoration of the native Crassostrea virginica oysters, and focuses on restoring and building sanctuary oyster reefs to increase the oyster population.

The Norfolk District began sanctuary oyster restoration in 2001, and has completed three projects: the Rappahannock River, Tangier and Pocomoke Sound and the Great Wicomico River.

The district is currently in the first phase of reef construction in the Lynnhaven River.

• Rappahannock River Oyster Restoration project begins with construction of a small-scale project in the lower Rappahannock River.

•The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration program was authorized by the Water Resources Development Act of 1986.

• The program was the result of coordination and consultation among many project partners and stakeholders, federal and state resource agencies, watermen, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, academicians and interested citizens, as well as non-profit groups such as Oyster Recovery Partnership, Virginia Seafood Council, Lynnhaven 2007 and others. 

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• Norfolk District completes the Tangier/Pocomoke Sound Oyster Restoration project,158 acres of reef habitat and seeding of 30 million spat-on-shell oysters. Total cost for construction, seeding and monitoring is approximately $3.5 million.


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• Construction begins on the Great Wicomico River Oyster Restoration project. The plan calls for construction of 111 acres of reef habitat and the seeding of 15 million disease-tolerant broodstock oysters.

• During a test seeding conducted on the Great Wicomico River reefs, cownose rays consumed 70 to 90 percent of the 1.3 million broodstock oysters.

• The Norfolk District Oyster Restoration team devlops a bio-security plan to protect the oysters during full-scale project planting.


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• The Norfolk District and its partners, VMRC, NOAA, VIMS, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation plant the first of 15 million broodstock oysters on the Great Wicomico River reefs.

• The Corps contractor notifies Norfolk District that he will not be able to provide the required 15 million oysters in the specified timeframe for the Great Wicomico reef project. All of the animals were to have been placed on the reefs before June 1, so that they could be protected by nets from cownose rays and other predators during the summer months. The Norfolk District Oyster Restoration team expects that the reduced number of oysters on the reefs will cause a delay in the project schedule.

• The Norfolk District announces that Brian Rheinhart will succeed Doug Martin as project manager.

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• Seeding in the Great Wicomico River continues.


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• The Corps begins construction on the Lynnhaven River reefs.

• Oyster seeding in the Great Wicomico River continues.

• The Corps finalizes plans for constructing the first phase of the Lynnhaven River Oyster Restoration project.

• Federal, state and non-governmental scientists continue to see positive results in the GWR.

• Construction of a second oyster reef, which is 30-plus acres, in the Lynnhaven River is completed; seeding set for next year.


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• The Norfolk District oyster restoration technical team reports that about 180,000,000 oysters – a 40-fold increase in population – on restored reef acreage in the GWR. The population exceeds the Chesapeake Bay’s program goal of a 10-fold increase. It is the first bay tributary, or sub-estuary, where a 10-fold goal has been met. 

• The Lynnhaven River reef construction is completed.

• The Corps begins construction on the Lynnhaven River reefs with follow-on seeding in 2009.

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• David Schulte, oceanographer with the Norfolk District, published a science article about sanctuary reefs on the GWR. Monitoring in the GWR indicates the reefs continue to perform well five years after construction. The average lifespan of a restored oyster reef was five years, but the results show the GWR reefs would exceed that.

• The Norfolk District wins the 2010 Coastal America Partnership Award for the 2009 Lynnhaven River Oyster Restoration project.


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• Monitoring continues in the Great Wicomico River and reefs are self-sustaining.

• Monitoring in the Lynnhaven River indicates high recruitment and sizeable oyster populations are developing.

• The Corps begins planning for the next phases in the Lynnhaven and Piankatank rivers. A leasehold issue prevents the Lynnhaven River project from going forward.


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• The Virginia Marine Science Commission, or VMRC, does not support moving forward on the Piankatank Project at this time. VMRC Letter.

• Corps officials annotate poaching on several Great Wicomico River, or GWR, reefs.

• An extreme anoxic event - when oxygen levels in the ocean are lower than the ocean’s surface levels - suppresses oyster numbers in the GWR. Low- and no-oxygen areas in the Chesapeake Bay, the nation's largest estuary, are measured in cubic miles and water volume. This year's low-oxygen zone is expected to affect 1.46 cubic miles in midsummer, with no measurable oxygen in 0.26 to 0.38 cubic miles, according to researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The Gulf dead zone affects nationally important commercial and recreational fisheries and threatens the region's economy, according to NOAA. It said the Chesapeake dead zones, which have been highly variable in recent years, threaten a multi-year effort to restore the Bay's water quality and enhance its production of crabs, oysters and other important fisheries.

• Fort Norfolk Oyster Reef project begins.

• Norfolk District establishes project delivery team for Fort Norfolk sanctuary reef and develops project management plan.

• Permit applications for breakwater reef and Taylor floats approved by VMRC.

• Norfolk District partners Seatack Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Va.

• Norfolk District volunteers attend an oyster education and Taylor float construction class.

• Oyster spat is put in mesh bags, placed in Taylor floats and placed along the Fort Norfolk dock and shoreline.

• Volunteers clean the Taylor floats every two- to four-weeks.

• District volunteers escort and assist Seatack Elementary School class in the collection of data.

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• The Great Wicomico River becomes the largest oyster recruitment event ever recorded in the Chesapeake Bay (shell-string survey, which measures baby oysters settling on shells).

• River bottom surveys indicated very heavy spatset (similar to that of 2006, which led to the high numbers observed in 2007) on the high-relief corps reefs that were unpoached.

• The Corps surveys in the Tangier/Pocomoke Sound sanctuary reefs and associated harvest grounds for the first time. The results of the survey found the Tangier/Pocomoke Sound sanctuary reefs had more oysters on them than the harvest grounds, which ran counter to the thesis that sanctuary oyster numbers fall to numbers similar to that of nearby harvested reefs (background levels) in a few years.

• Norfolk District names Jennifer Armstrong, biologist, as the new project manager for the Norfolk District Oyster Restoration program.

• A team of Norfolk District employees construct the Fort Norfolk Oyster Reef as part of Norfolk District’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, program. The reef has a large number of baby oysters – also called a spatset – event later that summer.

• Breakwater construction begins at Fort Norfolk with coordination from volunteers from operations, planning, regulatory and the Craney Island field office in Portsmouth, Va.

• District volunteers collect 40 bushels of oyster shell from the Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area in Portsmouth, Va.

• The Chesapeake Bay Foundation donates 110 bushels of oyster shell.

• Oyster shell reef construction begins. District volunteers move the shell to the reef to create the base of the reef.

• Breakwater reef signage research and design begins with U.S. Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration coordination.

• Seatack Elementary School field trip students complete data collection.

• Oyster planting on the breakwater reef, and transfer of district-grown Taylor float oysters to newly constructed reef.

• New oyster spat added to the Taylor floats and 14,000 new oyster spat were placed in seven bags in the Taylor floats at the Fort Norfolk dock.

• Data collection and oyster education classes are held for Seatack Elementary School students at Fort Norfolk.

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• Construction of six reefs for the Craney Island Eastward Expansion Project begins. Reef locations are at Hoffler Creek and Baines Creek, Portsmouth, Va.; Lafayette River, Norfolk, Va.; Giligan Creek (2 reefs), and Blows Creek, Chesapeake, Va.

• Students from Seatack Elementary School visit for data collection and oyster education.

• District volunteers collect 50 bushels of oyster shell at Craney Island Dredged Material Management Area.

• Fort Norfolk Baby oysters are put in mesh bags twice this year and placed in the district's Taylor floats until they are large enough to be moved to the reef.

• Third year oyster gardening project begins.

• Fourteen thousand baby oysters are placed in seven floats along the dock to begin the new year of oyster gardening.

• Both the Virginia and Baltimore districts are in the process of preparing a master plan and programmatic environmental impact statement (EIS) for native oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. This plan outlines a long-term plan for large-scale native oyster restoration throughout the Chesapeake Bay. The purpose of the project is to restore native habitat and to increase native oyster populations.

• The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission are serving as the non-federal sponsors and will aid in the completion of the master plan and EIS. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration agree to act as cooperating agencies on the native oyster study. This partnership ensures the most current and accurate science is incorporated into a study.

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Fort Norfolk Sanctuary Reef

Fort Norfolk sanctuary reef.

Sanctuary Reef Partners
• Lynnhaven River Now and Oyster Reef Keepers
• Seatack Elementary School teacher Jessica Grell provides funding for four Taylor floats and 14,000 oyster spat for the Fort Norfolk reef project.

• The Chesapeake Bay Foundation donates 110 bushels for the Fort Norfolk reef.

Agency Coordination
Virginia Marine Resource Commission - approves permits for Taylor floats and breakwater/reef.

Virginia Department of Emergency Quality (DEQ) - approves permits for Taylor floats and breakwater reef.
U.S. Coast Guard - coordinates signage permit for Fort Norfolk reef.

How does this project tie in with the Norfolk District's mission?
This effort covers many of the internal and external missions of the USACE. First, it covers welfare and morale. The initial intent was to provide an opportunity for a district team building and community outreach event.

There was the right combination of expertise and motivation.  It was truly a team effort combining teachers, parents and students from Seatack Elementary School as well as 60 district volunteers.

This effort could not have been accomplished alone, but as a team, the project was completed and continues to be monitored today.

The reef also promotes the environmental mission of the
Army Corps of Engineers by improving water quality and restoring the native oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay.

 Lynnhaven oyster.


Fossilized shell is being stored at the Craney Island Dredged Material Management area to be used for six reefs tied the Craney Island Eastward Expansion Project.


District volunteer oceanographer David  Schulte shows the successful Great Wicomico oyster growth after six years on a high-relief reef.




Baby oysters ready to be added to the Rappahhanock River reefs.


Children from Seatack Elementary talk to enviornmentalist Susan Conner from the Norfolk District about oysters.