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Nature Conservancy's $500,000 grant aids oysters

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A large-scale oyster sanctuary is being constructed in the Piankatank River as part of a project to restore the briny delicacy to 10 Virginia tributaries by 2025.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday announced a $500,000 grant from The Nature Conservancy to help construct the $3.8 million project. The conservancy is part of a joint venture between the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Work on the first sanctuary reef began this week. Additional reefs will be constructed next year.

The Piankatank project in Middlesex County is aimed at bolstering oyster stocks throughout the river.

"This oyster sanctuary will help clean the water, provide habitat for crabs and fish, and will be a prime source of larvae to create future generations of oysters in the Piankatank River," McAuliffe said in a statement. He was touring the river with other officials.

Michael Lipford, Virginia director of the Nature Conservancy, said the grant provides "essential funding" to move the project ahead.

"This represents a great public-and-private partnership that will benefit recreational fisheries, the oyster industry and the health of the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

The sanctuary is situated in a part of the river that will provide optimal oyster larvae distribution, increasing the chances the larvae will produce oysters far beyond the sanctuary's boundaries.

The reef project will experiment with the use of clean ground concrete. It is less expensive than building the entire reef out of oyster shells.

By using concrete, the state will conserve oyster shells for aquaculture operations.

A single adult oyster can purge as many as 50 gallons of water a day. Large-scale reefs are necessary to achieve a self-sustaining oyster population in a water body.

The Chesapeake Bay's oyster stocks have been depleted by pollution and disease. The hard shell is now at a fraction of its historic highs.

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