Nature Based Solutions in Action

Man and Boy Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration Project

Pull on your hip waders and dive into oyster reef restoration and nature-based solutions to adapt to sea-level rise!

The Eastern Shore’s unique expanse of Atlantic coastal wilderness offers unparalleled opportunities to study how local communities can benefit from intact natural systems, and the advantages of restoring coastal habitat. The Nature Conservancy envisions the Eastern Shore becoming a focal point for coastal resilience.

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The Nature Conservancy is working with partners and leading coastal scientists to better understand how we can use nature to make coastal communities more resilient in the face of a changing climate.

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Before work begins on the new reefs, a contractor for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission prepares the site by spreading or planting 50,000 bushels of fossil oyster and whelk shell on two mud flats that abut Man and Boy Marsh.

One of the goals of this project is to see if the new reef dampens wave energy and slows the rate of erosion along the marsh’s edge. Conservancy partners at the University of Virginia’s Virginia Coast Reserve Long-Term Ecological Research Project (a National Science Foundation funded project) are conducting research regarding the effects of the reef demonstration sites on wave action to help the Conservancy make a case for the value of natural infrastructure in protecting shorelines.

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A view from the marsh edge. Shell was planted at two sites – one on the east end and a second on the south end of the marsh. Both are approximately 1.25 acres in size.

The Nature Conservancy is working with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to build a total of five oyster reefs. Three additional reefs will be constructed at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The project is funded by both the U.S. Department of Interior and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through funds established by the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 designated to support Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

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Contractor’s barge used to carry and spread shell as well as to convey the castle pallets to the site. The piles of oyster shell behind the barge will be used in reefs that will be planted at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

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After the shells are spread, plastic wrapped pallets of oyster castles are delivered to the site by barge. Each pallet contains 72 oyster castles; each individual castle weighs 30 pounds.

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Castles are placed along the seaward edge of the shell plants where they will be built into two staggered rows of 500 feet each.

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The castles have been deployed and are ready for volunteers to begin building castle arrays.

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Bo Lusk, Virginia Coast Reserve Coastal Scientist and oyster restoration specialist, gives volunteers instructions for how to build reef arrays using the concrete castles.

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Volunteer and Conservancy staff teams building reef arrays at Man and Boy Marsh East during the first day of construction (left). Two staggered rows of castles spaced 3 feet apart line the seaward edge of the shell plants at both Man and Boy Marsh restoration sites.

Volunteer Andi Clinton works on a foundation tier of castles during day two at Man and Boy Marsh South (right).

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Volunteers hard at work with a tide that does not want to go out (left)! Volunteer Jeff Schneblen (right).

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NASA contractor Mike Bonsteel (left). A castle array is 7 feet long separated by 7 feet of bottom. Each array consists of 28 castles stacked in three tiers, totaling 18 inches in height (right).

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View of the eroding marsh edge and exposed peat banks at Man and Boy Marsh East (top). Partially completed castle arrays along the edge of the shell plant fronting the marsh (bottom). One of the goals of this project is to see if the new reef dampens wave energy and slows the rate of erosion along the marsh’s edge.

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Land Protection Manager Jim McGowan (left). A castle array at low tide, ready for spat to call it home (right). Castles are fully exposed at low tide; at high tide, they are completely submerged.

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A fully assembled castle array. In the background are piles of castles waiting to be stacked into stable, interlocking arrays.

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Bo Lusk measures the spacing between arrays and rows (top). Side view of a castle array (bottom).

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Volunteers Sue Rice, Frank Renshaw and Perri Moeller; Bo Lusk (clockwise from lower left).

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Volunteer Jeff Deem (left); National Fish and Wildlife Foundation field consultant Marty McHugh (right).

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Pallets of castles awaiting deployment (top), and completed reefs (bottom). Thanks to the combined efforts of Conservancy staff and our tireless volunteers, we put together 4,032 castles to build a series of 144 reef arrays (28 castles each) along 1,008 linear feet of shoreline!

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If our experience at Idaho Reef (shown above) is any indication, we have good reason for hope at Man and Boy Marsh.

We revitalized Idaho, an old dead reef, by deploying a total of 12,388 castles on over 550 linear feet of reef. By raising the reef 8-14 inches with oyster castles we hoped to bring it up to a level in the water column where it could once again support oysters and continue to accrete vertically apace of sea level rise. With donations from The Volgenau Foundation, Allied Concrete, and the help of staff and 57 volunteers, we constructed a portion of the project in spring 2013 (lower left) and the remainder in spring 2014 (lower right). These photos taken in October 2014 show how quickly and completely oysters have colonized the Idaho Reef castles. This is what we hope to see occur at Man and Boy.

For more information on how oyster reefs help safeguard against nature’s storms and slow erosion visit Virginia’s Eastern Shores Project Area on or follow us on Twitter @CoastResilience.