Progress

Eight Chesapeake Bay tributaries have been selected for oyster reef restoration: Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River in Maryland, and the Great Wicomico, Lafayette, Lower York, Lynnhaven and Piankatank rivers in Virginia. The Manokin and St. Mary’s rivers—both located in Maryland—are being considered for selection.

Each of these tributaries is at a different level of progress in a process that involves developing a tributary restoration plan, building and seeding reefs, and monitoring and evaluating restored reefs. Monitoring and evaluation—which will take place at three- and six-year intervals following construction and seeding—will determine whether a reef can be considered restored and whether this outcome has been met. This phase will not be complete until after 2025. More information about monitoring and evaluation protocols, frequency and success metrics can be found in a metrics report from the Oyster Metrics Workgroup.

Interactive Chart

Oyster Reef Restoration (2017)

Individual acreage targets are based on a tributary's historic oyster habitat and currently restorable area. The Great Wicomico, Lower York and Piankatank rivers will be added to this chart once their target acreages are established.

Interactive Map

Oyster Restoration in Chesapeake Bay Tributaries (2017)

The table below depicts the following information about the tributaries that have been selected for oyster restoration: where planning and restoration stand; the acres of reefs that have been restored toward established targets; and whether monitoring and evaluation is underway.

Download the Oyster Reef Restoration Progress Dashboard (.xlsx)

In Maryland, 716 acres of oyster reefs in the internationally recognized Choptank Complex—which includes Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River—are considered complete. While most of these reefs have undergone restoration as part of our progress toward this outcome, others are naturally occurring and already meet our criteria for a restored reef. According to a July 2018 restoration update, 222 acres of reefs remain to be restored, including 66 acres in the Tred Avon and 156 acres in the Little Choptank.

  • The Harris Creek restoration plan originally called for 377 acres of reefs to be restored. This target was later revised to 350 acres. Between 2011 and 2015, 351 acres of reefs were built and seeded with spat, marking the completion of the initial restoration phase for the largest oyster restoration sanctuary in the United States. Reef monitoring and evaluation occurred in 2015 and 2016, and revealed that 98 percent of the reefs seeded in 2012 and 2013 met our criteria for success in oyster weight and density. A population report published in 2016 showed a “Spatfall Intensity Index” of 58 to 68 spat per bushel, which indicates better-than-average recruitment rates. In 2017, 164 acres of Harris Creek reefs received a planned “second-year-class” seeding of spat. (These seedings take place four years after a reef is first seeded with spat, as long as monitoring indicates a reef is faring as well as or worse than projected.) Monitoring will continue through 2021.
  • The Little Choptank River restoration plan calls for 440 acres of reefs to be restored. Of this total, 45 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef. As of 2017, 239 acres of reefs have been restored, bringing the total acreage of restored reefs in the Little Choptank to 284. Nearly 60 acres of reefs will be seeded with spat in 2018.
  • The Tred Avon River draft restoration plan calls for 147 acres of reefs to be present in the sanctuary. As of 2017, 81 acres of reefs have been restored. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will build 46 of the remaining 66 acres of reefs as funding and resources allow.

In Virginia, 480 acres of oyster reefs are considered complete. Some of these reefs have undergone restoration as part of our progress toward this outcome, while others have undergone previous restoration work or, due to naturally occurring reefs and oysters, already meet our criteria for a restored reef. According to a January 2018 restoration update, 5 acres of oyster reefs remain to be restored in the Lafayette River and 61 acres remain to be restored in the Lynnhaven. Restoration targets for the Great Wicomico, Lower York and Piankatank are under development.

  • In the Great Wicomico River—which was selected for restoration in 2017—partners are working to develop a restoration target. Due to past restoration work, 61 acres of reefs in this tributary already meet our definition of restored. Partners do not anticipate the availability of funds to support reef construction in the Great Wicomico in 2018.
  • The Lafayette River restoration plan calls for 80 acres of reefs to be restored. Of this total, Of this total, 71 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef. A 2017 analysis of eight Lafayette reefs revealed that 100 percent met the criteria for success in oyster weight and density, and all are serving as home to a healthy and reproducing oyster population. In 2017, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Elizabeth River Project built four and a half acres of reefs, bringing the total acreage of restored reefs in the Lafayette to 75. The two nonprofit organizations will build the remaining five acres of reefs in 2018 with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency funds administered through a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) grant.
  • In the Lower York River—which was selected for restoration in 2017—partners are working to develop a restoration target. Partners do not anticipate the availability of funds to support reef construction in this tributary in 2018.
  • In the Lynnhaven River, partners have set a target to restore 152 acres of reefs. Of this total, 89 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef. Two acres have been restored as part of our progress toward this outcome, bringing the total acreage of restored reefs in the Lynnhaen to 91. While the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Virginia Beach plan to restore 31 acres of reefs in the Lynnhaven, the first phase of this restoration project has not been scheduled and partners do not anticipate the availability of funds to support reef construction in this tributary in 2018.
  • In the Piankatank River, partners have set a target to restore between 500 and 1,000 acres of reefs. Of this total, 228 acres already meet our definition of a restored reef. In 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers finished building 25 acres of reefs, bringing the total acreage of restored reefs in the tributary to 253. The Army Corps will fund oyster population surveys on additional Piankatank reefs in 2018 to determine whether additional areas meet our restoration criteria and can be included in this tributary’s completed acreage total.

Over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss have led to a severe drop in oyster populations over the last century. Oyster restoration at the tributary level aims to increase oyster populations to provide the ecosystem services that oyster reefs perform.

Tracking our progress toward restoring oyster reefs is critical to understanding our progress toward enhancing climate resiliency. Oyster reefs promote clean water, provide food and habitat to species threatened by climate change, and protect shorelines from strong waves. The latter mitigates the impacts of coastal floods and reduces the extent of property damage caused by storm events. For these reasons, oyster reefs help us prepare for some of the disruptions climate change can cause.

Funding

According to the Maryland Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroup, partners have invested more than $51 million in oyster restoration in the Choptank Complex over the past seven years.

Interactive Chart

Oyster Reef Restoration Costs in the Choptank Complex (2012-2017)

These costs represent only those funds spent on reef construction, material transport and seeding. Costs associated with directing existing resources into the Choptank Complex are not reflected, nor are staff salaries.
Full Screen

In Harris Creek, partners spent $28.39 million between 2012 and 2017. In the Little Choptank River, partners spent $18.47 million between 2014 and 2017. In the Tred Avon River, partners spent $4.61 million between 2015 and 2017. It is important to note that these costs represent only those funds spent on reef construction, material transport and seeding. Costs associated with directing existing resources into the Choptank Complex (e.g., water quality monitoring, benthic surveys, or oyster population and disease surveys) are not reflected, nor are staff salaries.

Partners estimate the nine and a half acres of restoration work that remains for the Lafayette River will cost $1.35 million.

Management Strategy

To achieve this outcome, Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to:

  • Planning and implementing oyster reef restoration in select Maryland and Virginia tributaries.
  • Coordinating and communicating our progress toward and research related to oyster reef restoration.

Monitoring and assessing progress toward the outcome will occur at the reef, tributary and Chesapeake Bay-wide levels. Reef- and tributary-level monitoring will take place at three and six years after restoration is complete to determine if a tributary has been successfully restored according to agreed-upon metrics.

As part of the Chesapeake Bay Program’s partnership-wide implementation of adaptive management, progress toward this outcome was reviewed and discussed by the Management Board in August of 2017.

Work Plan

Chesapeake Bay Program partners have committed to taking a series of specific actions that will support the management approaches listed above.

Completed actions from this outcome's work plan include:

  • In 2017, the Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team (GIT) approved the selection of the Great Wicomico and Lower York rivers as the fourth and fifth tributaries chosen for oyster reef restoration. The Virginia Interagency Oyster Team recommended these tributaries to the Sustainable Fisheries GIT, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers previously identified both rivers as among the most suitable in the Chesapeake Bay for large-scale oyster restoration.

Participating Partners

The Sustainable Fisheries Goal Implementation Team leads the effort to achieve this outcome. It works in partnership with the Vital Habitats, Water Quality and Healthy Watersheds goal implementation teams.

Participating partners include:

  • Maryland Department of Natural Resources (State of Maryland)
  • City of Norfolk (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • City of Virginia Beach (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Christopher Newport University (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Virginia Institute of Marine Science (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Virginia Marine Resources Commission (Commonwealth of Virginia)
  • Potomac River Fisheries Commission
  • Chesapeake Bay Commission
  • National Marine Fisheries Service (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Elizabeth River Project
  • Lynnhaven River NOW
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Oyster Recovery Partnership
  • Oyster Reefkeepers
  • Pleasure House Oysters