Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Here’s how an artificial reef, oyster bed is being built near Carolina Beach (VIDEO)

700 tons of recycled concrete will be the new home for oysters in the Cape Fear River (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
700 tons of recycled concrete will be the new home for oysters in the Cape Fear River (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

CAROLINA BEACH — Sport fishermen and oyster lovers rejoice – construction has begun on a one-acre artificial reef aimed at enhancing recreational fishing and providing a new, hospitable home for oysters in the Lower Cape Fear River.

The artificial reef, known formally as AR 491, is a project from the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) in partnership with Carolina Beach State Park and the North Carolina Coastal Federation. The five-acre site is located in the Cape Fear River just off the banks of Carolina Beach State Park.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, workers deployed 700-tons of recycled crushed concrete into the river to create the new reef.

The project began late last week, and Ted Wilgis, biologist and coastal education coordinator for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, said he hopes to have the project complete by Thursday or Friday.

“The NC DMF Artificial Reef Program has been formally operating since the 1970s, and has a total of 68 permitted artificial reefs and oyster sanctuaries within the state of North Carolina. Twenty-five of these sites are in the state’s estuaries, while 43 are in ocean waters. NC DMF selected the site in the Lower Cape River to increase recreational user access and to add to its network of small estuarine artificial reefs in the state,” according Wilgis.

If successful, AR 491 is just the beginning for the five-acre site. The NC Coastal Federation has more plans for the Cape Fear River and Carolina Beach State Park.

A mature eastern oyster. (Photo Benjamin Schachtman)

“The five-acre project area was selected for the potential for oyster reef habitat creation and proximity to Carolina Beach State Park. The shallow water depths surrounding the park are popular with recreational anglers. An accessible and nearshore artificial reef will enhance fishing opportunities while also serving as hard bottom habitat for oysters and finfish species,” according to a release from the Coastal Federal.

While often served in the half-shell, oysters are not just good for eating; oysters play a vital role in maintaining water quality and one oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day.

“Oysters in terms of the ecosystem services they provide are really good filters, that is how they eat … They provide a very important habitat, a lot of fish use oyster reefs for refuge, foraging, or spawning,” Wilgins said.

Barges are loaded with recycled concrete and then taken out into the river where they are then sprayed into the water giving oysters a new habitat (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)
Barges are loaded with recycled concrete and then taken out into the river where they are then sprayed into the water giving oysters a new habitat (Port City Daily photo/MICHAEL PRAATS)

The Cape Fear River used to have a plethora of reefs and oyster beds, but over the past few decades over-fishing, pollution, and dredging of the river has caused a significant decline in oyster habitats.

All is not lost though, and the NC DMF says the river still has a larger number of floating oyster larvae and the new artificial reefs will give these larvae a chance to attach and form new oyster beds.

Aside from being beneficial to water quality, oyster reefs help prevent erosion and also offer new habitat for fish, thus enhancing recreational fishing opportunities.

“This oyster restoration project is part of the larger Cape Fear Blueprint, which the federation is developing to restore the Cape Fear River through funding from The Orton Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation. The goal of the blueprint is to improve the river and surrounding watershed’s overall health and water quality,” according to a press release from the NC Coastal Federation.

In 2003, the NC Coastal Federation created the Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for North Carolina: A Blueprint for Action, a guide to help restore the oyster population. The Federation also hopes to restore 50 acres of oyster reefs by 2020 as part of the larger project, The 50 Million Oyster Initiative.

The project is also a good starting point for a long-term project that Wilgins said is aimed at maintaining and restoring the Cape Fear River and water quality.


Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.p@localvoicemedia.com

Related Articles