Protecting North Carolina’s Coast with Oyster Reefs

To protect North Carolina’s coast by ensuring thriving ecosystems and economies, our TNC scientists have been working with university partners to evaluate oyster habitat for restoration potential. While oyster reefs provide a multitude of ecosystem and economic benefits when restored successfully, restoration success is highly variable, and failure is often due to inadequate site selection.

Oysters were once an iconic part of the Pamlico Sound; we are working to restore reefs for their natural benefits: wave attenuation, water quality improvement, as well as the exceptional habitat these structures provide for fish and invertebrates. Photo: Aaron McCall/TNC

To improve success rates, habitat suitability index models are used to guide the siting of restoration efforts. A habitat suitability model tailored for oyster restoration was recently developed by scientists at North Carolina State University, the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Research Reserve, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries, and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The model included 17 parameters that scientists, resource managers, and restoration practitioners identified as important to successful oyster restoration. Example parameters included sediment type, salinity, larval dispersal, and distance from public boat ramps. All 17 parameters were projected on a map and overlaid on one another to identify optimal areas for oyster restoration. Habitat suitability models, when used in conjunction with stakeholder engagement and spatial planning help provide stronger linkages to obtaining a more holistic and unified approach to restoration. This work has been published in Frontiers in Marine Science, and informs the inputs to our Restoration Explorer.