A sound idea

Published 11:36 am Thursday, February 24, 2011

More power to them.

A member of an environmental group, PenderWatch & Conservancy, wants to create a dozen oyster reefs along the Intracoastal Waterway near Wilmington. The group is convinced the oyster reefs will help clean water that flows through the area and prevent erosion.

The group hopes to have the needed permits for the project in hand by March. Let’s hope the agencies that issue the permits fast track this project. It’s one that will benefit the state’s coastal environment and marine-fisheries economy.

The group’s plan, although not a new one, is commendable. It appears similar to a local project.

In August, several area commercial fishermen began distributing 3,000 bushels of oyster shells in the Pamlico Sound behind Ocracoke Island in an effort to build fisheries habitat and supplement their incomes.

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries paid the fishermen $2 a bushel to distribute the shells as part of the N.C. Coastal Federation’s $5 million federal economic recovery grant. The grant also provided funds for building two large oyster reefs covering 48 acres in Pamlico Sound. That work was completed in May 2010. The project has created about 135 jobs, so far.

During the summer, oyster shells and rock, called cultch, can be put into the water to provide habitat for oyster larvae. For the first two weeks of their lives, oysters are carried about by currents. Then, oysters sink to the bottom and attach to clean, hard surfaces in order to survive. That’s why oysters are found growing attached to one another in reefs, on bridge pilings or other hard, underwater surfaces.

The cultch isn’t only beneficial to oysters. It also provides habitat and protection for juvenile fish, crabs, small marine organisms and many important commercial and recreational species. As the oyster reefs develop, larger fish tend to congregate around them, feeding on the smaller fish and marine life. The reefs are important nurseries and feeding grounds that help support North Carolina’s billion-dollar commercial and recreational fishing industries.

And that’s why getting this project approved and under way is important.