Unsupported Browser Detected

Internet Explorer lacks support for the features of this website. For the best experience, please use a modern browser such as Chrome, Firefox, or Edge.

Reaching a Major Oyster Restoration Milestone in Virginia’s York River

April 23, 2024

The York River is the eighth tributary restored toward the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal of ten.

Eight people on a boat dump oyster shells into the water, while other look on. Representatives from partners in York River oyster restoration placed oyster shells on a York River reef to ceremonially complete the project. Photo: NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office

NOAA and partners are making great progress toward a big goal: To restore oyster reef habitat in 10 Chesapeake Bay tributaries by 2025. It’s the world’s largest oyster restoration project!

At an Earth Day 2024 event, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin announced that work to restore oyster reefs in the York River is complete. The York River, which is located in NOAA’s Middle Peninsula Habitat Focus Area, is the eighth tributary to be declared to be restored.

“It is my privilege to commemorate this year’s Earth Day by officially announcing and celebrating the completion of the Lower York River Oyster Restoration Goal. By reaching this restoration goal, we are sending a clear message that this administration’s year-round commitment to preserve our natural resources is unwavering,” said Governor Youngkin. “As Virginians, we are blessed to be surrounded by an abundance of treasured natural resources and we will protect them.”

NOAA and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission conducted the project, which restored more than 200 acres of habitat.

Restored Reefs Provide Important Habitat

We believe that restoring oyster reef habitat is important because oysters—and the reefs they form—provide important benefits. Oyster reefs are important habitat for many commercially and recreationally significant fish and shellfish. Reefs give juvenile fish a place to hide from predators. Oysters are filter feeders, so they help improve water quality as they eat. 

"NOAA is excited to celebrate not only the tremendous work to restore more than 200 acres of oyster reef in the York River—and the habitat these reefs will provide for species including black sea bass, summer flounder, and blue crabs—but also to highlight the partnership among Virginia agencies and NOAA that made it happen," said Dr. Sunny Snider, deputy director of NOAA Fisheries' Office of Habitat Conservation.

A woman leans over a table to sign her name on an oyster shell.
NOAA’s Dr. Sunny Snider signs one of the oyster shells that was later planted in the York River. Photo: NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office

Healthy Reefs Support the Economy

Having more habitat and cleaner water is also good for people and the economy. Research shows that in one Chesapeake river, having restored reefs would lead to a 160 percent increase in the annual blue crab harvest.

“I am extremely proud of our Shellfish Management Division and the pivotal role that we have played in this historic achievement, which not only supports the most economically important commercial fishery in Virginia but also sets a precedent for sustainable coastal conservation efforts nationwide,” said Virginia Marine Resources Commissioner Jamie Green. 

Restored Tributaries

Eight tributaries have been restored toward the Chesapeake Bay Program’s goal.


  • Harris Creek
  • Little Choptank River
  • Tred Avon River
  • Upper St. Mary’s River


  • Lafayette River
  • Piankatank River
  • Great Wicomico River
  • Lower York River

Virginia was so excited about restoring oyster reefs that they worked in an eleventh “bonus” tributary, the Eastern Branch of the Elizabeth River! Work continues in Virginia’s Lynnhaven River and Maryland’s Manokin River.

NOAA Plays Important Roles in Restoration

We chair the Maryland and Virginia workgroups that guide large-scale oyster reef restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. These groups do the planning and coordinate the implementation and construction of the projects. In the York River, NOAA scientists use sonar to map the bottom of the river where the reef projects are planned. They and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission will track the health of those restoration reefs after restoration to make sure they succeed. 

In addition, we provided funding to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to support the York River project.

Last updated by NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office on April 23, 2024