Project aims to introduce more oysters into Neuse River, local waters


OCEAN, Carteret County - They're a favorite dish at seafood restaurants worldwide. Here in North Carolina, oysters are also important to the environment.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation just received more than $1 million to put a large number of oysters back into our waters.

"Oysters are like the canary in the mine in terms of telling us about the health of our coastal waters," said Todd Miller, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation. "A vibrant oyster population means our water quality is good."

The federal grant will help fund the construction of an oyster reef near the mouth of the Neuse River. Miller, who like many loves oysters, said the goal of the project is to put 50 acres of reef into the water. The reef is created by pouring a bed of rocks into the water and allowing baby oysters to grow there. Phase one uses limestone while phase two uses granite to test the durability of both.

"I think long term, keeping oysters a major part of our coastal system opens up all kinds of recreational and commercial opportunities for the economy," Miller said.

Miller said an individual oyster can filter 35-50 gallons of water a day. That adds up to massive amounts of filtered water coming from these reefs.

"We're talking in the neighborhood, when we complete this 50-acre reef, having at least 50 million oysters, so you do the math," Miller said.

Phase two of the project is expected to begin next spring and depending on funds received in the future, there are plans for a phase three.