Restoration Explorer focuses on oysters

The Nature Conservancy has expanded its efforts to restore oysters by incorporating new data into a computer application that helps coastal managers map areas that are suitable for oyster reef restoration. The Conservancy recently partnered with scientists from North Carolina State University and the North Carolina National Estuary Research Reserve to expand the Restoration Explorer tool by bringing in their research on oyster sanctuary siting in the Pamlico Sound.

The Nature Conservancy developed this computer application in 2010 to increase regional restoration work following successful large-scale restoration efforts occurring in the Gulf. This included 3.4 miles of oyster reef restoration The Conservancy completed with partners off the coast of Louisiana and a 60-acre restoration project in Texas. Using this tool to connect science to restoration efforts, The Conservancy is leading the way for more regional oyster restoration work.

The scientist’s work was vetted by researchers, restoration practitioners, fishermen, marine contractors and resource managers who considered both biological and logistical factors in helping to guide the tool’s final site prioritization. Scientists combined this input with their research to create a map of the most suitable areas for deep water oyster sanctuaries within the Pamlico Sound per current rules and regulations. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries has used this map to help identify three new sites for restoration and as strategic sanctuary locations.

“This sanctuary siting tool is a great resource for helping to focus restoration efforts,” Erin Fleckenstein Coastal Scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation said. “With over 2,000 square miles of waters in the Pamlico Sound being potential oyster habitat, figuring out where to even start planning for restoration can be daunting. This tool helps restoration practitioners and resource managers begin to hone in on where suitable habitat, with the potential to augment the wild oyster populations and free from user conflict might exist. Field investigations and public meetings then confirm or refute the potential suitability of a site,” said Fleckenstein.

This tool will help coastal managers move toward their 2020 goal in the “Oyster Restoration and Protection Plan for NC: A Blueprint for Action 2015 – 2020” to establish 500 acres of new oyster sanctuaries.

This is the latest chapter in the Conservancy’s oyster restoration work. Since 2002 the Conservancy has restored and created oyster reefs, participated in the oyster shell recycling program, and worked with the NC Division of Marine Fisheries to establish some of the state’s first oyster sanctuaries.

View the Restoration Explorer tool in action!