VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A 623-square-foot sanctuary oyster reef in the Elizabeth River captured recognition for the Norfolk District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental work yesterday.
The district was among 109 local businesses recognized by the Elizabeth River Project for its environmental achievements, specifically, partnering with a local school and organizations to build a tidal estuary off the shoreline of historic Fort Norfolk, Va.
“The organizations recognized today collectively reduced pollution in the Elizabeth River by 311 million pounds since the Elizabeth River Project program began in 1997,” said Pam Boatwright, deputy director and River Stars business program manager.
River Stars is a program that recognizes local businesses, organizations and academia each year for continuing efforts to create a healthy environment and a swimmable and fishable Elizabeth River by the year 2020. The district has been active in restoration efforts in the Elizabeth River for more than 20 years and became recognized for their efforts by River Stars this year.
District geographers Jeff Swallow and Karin Dridge attended the ceremony and accepted the plaque on the district’s behalf.
“It was inspiring and motivating to see all the other environmental projects (from other organizations) along the Elizabeth River to get the river back to fishable and swimmable conditions,” Swallow said. “We were honored to represent the more than 70 district volunteers who were part of the reef construction as well as project partners who were awarded today for their native oyster restoration efforts in the Elizabeth River.”
The district’s sanctuary reef construction began in 2011 and was completed in 2013. District volunteers maintain the reef by adding thousands of baby oysters once a year that are grown in Taylor floats next to the district’s pier.
The thousands of baby oysters, or spat, keep the reef viable as oysters attach to it, grow and purify the water.
The district designed and constructed the reef and breakwater in addition to creating two wetland restorations on the Elizabeth River, at Old Dominion University and Scuffletown Creek.
The Elizabeth River, a six-mile tidal estuary forming an arm of the Hampton Roads harbor at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay in southeast Virginia, is one of the smallest estuaries in the area, but its location, Boatwright said, makes it important.
“The river’s location along the southern side of the mouth of the James River – between the cities of Portsmouth and Norfolk – form the core of the Hampton Roads harbor,” Boatwright said.
Through its Southern Branch and the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal, the Elizabeth River is a gateway south for the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway - an inland path from the ocean providing a more sheltered navigable waterway to Florida for commercial and recreational boating.
But the river is “infamous” for its pollution, Boatwright said. It’s a notoriety that Boatwright hopes the river will shed with the help of the River Star program.
“The Elizabeth River Project has partnered with the Corps for decades on restoration projects, so we are so pleased and proud of our River Star partnership,” Boatwright said. “This river is a lifeline for industry as well as enjoyment – it doesn't get any better than that.”