Low Funding Slows Va. Oyster Restoration
NORFOLK, Va. Limited federal funds and a dearth of baby oysters will slow efforts at restoring native oysters in Virginia's waters.
While Congress recently approved just more than $1 million for the Army Corps of Engineers to pursue oyster restoration work in 2006, it is the smallest allocation since 2003. It will pay mostly for the corps to complete a long-term master plan of future oyster projects, officials said.
The restoration efforts are intended to replenish the Chesapeake Bay, which has seen its native oyster populations decline sharply through the decades because of pollution, disease and lost habitat.
Brian Rheinhart, the new project manager for native oyster recovery at the Norfolk district, said there may be some artificial oyster reefs built in the Lynnhaven River next year, but he was not sure.
The sole contractor hired by the corps to raise "seed" oysters in Virginia remains behind schedule in growing enough babies for reefs in the Great Wicomico River -- a project near the Virginia-Maryland line that was expected to be completed last year.
The corps had hoped to "carpet-bomb" three man-made reefs in the Great Wicomico with 15 million oysters as part of a strategy designed to overwhelm diseases that have ravaged bay stocks and to spark a population rebound there.
To date, however, about 6 million oysters have been set piecemeal on the reefs, Rheinhart said, and some have died because of low oxygen levels and red tides in the river this summer.
While Congress approved the $1 million for the Norfolk Corps, it also approved a separate $2 million for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to monitor corps efforts.
The $2 million will be funneled to the marine institute through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Asked what the institute will do with the money, Paula Jasinski of the administration's Chesapeake Bay office director in Virginia said she has requested a meeting next week to find out the purpose of the funding.
Laurie Sorabella, executive director of Lynnhaven River 2007, an environmental group trying to clean up the Virginia Beach waterway, said she is not frustrated by all the federal entanglements, which have effectively delayed action on the river for two years.
"Whether they get to us in 2006 or 2007 or 2008, we'd be excited for them to do some oyster restoration work on our river," Sorabella said.
She said local efforts will continue. The city of Virginia Beach and hundreds of volunteers are growing native oysters and spreading them on artificial reefs.
"Whenever they get to us is fine," Sorabella said.
Source: Associated Press