NORFOLK—Governor Ralph Northam visited the Elizabeth River Project’s Learning Barge last week where he celebrated the restoration of the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River and announced $10 million in new funding to support future oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. This spending commitment marks the first time that capital funds, which are typically reserved for infrastructure projects, have been explicitly used to restore Virginia’s natural resources.
“Virginia has made tremendous progress in improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay, reviving oyster habitats, and building a legacy of environmental stewardship,” said Governor Northam. “This investment is a recognition that our natural assets are just as important as roads and buildings. The new funding stream that I proposed and the General Assembly adopted in our state budget will ensure that we can meet our restoration goals and achieve a clean and healthy Bay for the benefit of our communities, our economy, and our ecosystems.”
Oysters are an important species in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, filtering and removing excess nutrients like nitrogen from the water. In addition to spawning and producing more oysters throughout the Bay, restored oyster reefs provide critical ecosystem services including shoreline protection and habitat for fish, crabs, and other aquatic life.
The effort to restore native oyster populations in the Chesapeake Bay is one of the largest and most aggressive in the world. With the signing of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Virginia and its partners committed to restoring native oyster populations in 10 tributaries by 2025. Since then, Virginia has restored 240.5 acres of native oyster habitat building on earlier restoration of 473 acres. This restoration work has vastly improved water quality and generated billions of baby oysters in the Bay.