The Middle Peninsula of Virginia was chosen as NOAA’s newest Habitat Focus Area only a few months ago. A number of projects in this area are already making impressive progress.
The area was selected because it faces significant challenges from coastal flooding and erosion. The Middle Peninsula also presents many opportunities to enhance habitat for fisheries. NOAA and our partners know that nature-based infrastructure can help it become more economically and ecologically resilient. Projects will restore habitats for important fish and shellfish species and will improve the resiliency of coastal communities.
In Mobjack Bay, we provided a $3 million grant over the next 4 years to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. This funding will help construct more than 65 acres of subtidal oyster reef. These healthy reefs will help filter the water, provide habitat for other species, and support commercial and recreational fisheries. One project plans to place oyster structures near a shoreline to help protect tidal marshes from erosion. The exact site will be decided after a NOAA-funded Virginia Institute of Marine Science study determines where the placement of intertidal or nearshore oyster structures could best reduce shoreline erosion. This project will be on land owned by either the Commonwealth of Virginia or the Chesapeake Bay Middle Peninsula Public Access Authority.
Reef restoration will also continue in the Lower York River. We are providing $800,000 to support the Virginia Marine Resource Commission as it completes the construction of 150 acres of oyster reef there. The Lower York River is one of five tributaries in Virginia targeted for restoration under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement’s oyster restoration goal.
Hog Island in Mobjack Bay suffers from shoreline erosion due to the often intense storms that affect the area, magnified by sea-level rise. The island currently protects a coastal community (including a private aquaculture business) from the damaging effects of coastal storm surge. We provided the support needed to plan an island restoration project that will protect the neighboring community and aquaculture farm. To continue the project, our partners at the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program are providing $450,000 toward creation of a living shoreline project at Hog Island. This funding, combined with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, will enable the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority to construct oyster structures on the shoreline of the marshy island to reduce further erosion.
Valuing Natural Resources
As we restore habitat in the Habitat Focus Area, we are learning more about the benefits restored areas bring to the ecosystem—and to the economy. Researchers are exploring the socioeconomic value of oyster reefs, submerged aquatic vegetation, and natural or restored shorelines in the Middle Peninsula. Two university research projects funded by the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Fisheries Research Program are examining this question.
Morgan State University is engaged in a 2-year, $250,000 project to develop new ecological models for the York and Piankatank rivers. They will combine the models with analyses of the regional economic impact of the oyster reefs and submerged aquatic vegetation found in these two rivers. For example, Morgan State investigators will study the economic impacts resulting from large-scale, mature oyster reefs in both rivers and the benefits they provide to the local seafood industry. This will let the researchers project socioeconomic benefits for a range of oyster and seagrass habitat scenarios—from thriving to depleted—in the Middle Peninsula.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science was awarded a 2-year, $249,000 project. It is studying the socioeconomic benefits of ecological services provided to the Middle Peninsula region from a variety of existing natural (i.e., wetlands) and restored (i.e., living) shorelines.
Bolstering Community, Capacity, and Environmental Literacy
One aspect of the Habitat Focus Area is an effort to support the local community coming together to protect and conserve the rivers and marshes near them. In the Middle Peninsula, we provided a $225,000, 2-year grant to Green Fin Studios for strategic planning, coalition building, and communications. Green Fin will help the York River and Small Coastal Basins Roundtable develop a State of the York Report. They will also join NOAA and the Roundtable in habitat conservation and restoration planning, including the development of a regional wetlands plan.
NOAA is also supporting awards to both the York County School Division and the Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District through the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Education and Training Program. A 3-year award of $150,000 to the York County School Division will support meaningful watershed educational experiences for students and teachers. These experiences will increase students’ understanding of their local waterways—and their commitment to keeping those waterways healthy. In addition, the Hanover-Caroline Soil and Water Conservation District received a 2-year award of $159,000. This will support their efforts to engage communities and build environmental literacy networks and plans for school districts in Caroline, Essex, and Middlesex counties.
The Middle Peninsula Habitat Focus Area is still less than 1 year old, but there’s a lot going on in this beautiful, vital part of Virginia. Check back for more updates as efforts by NOAA and our partners keep rolling!