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An innovative approach for waterways

By Elizabeth Taraski

The mission of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance is: Informing citizens about the status of Suffolk’s river and creeks. Educating shoreline property owners about environmental regulations related to their property. Spreading the word about best practices that citizens can do to restore the waterways. Setting an example by applying best practices in the field by establishing oyster reef sanctuaries, rain gardens, living shorelines and creating a native tree and shrub conservation demonstration site — an outdoor classroom for the public.

NRPA has also taken an innovative approach to restoring the waterways. In 2012, NRPA developed the Nansemond Watershed Initiative: Connecting the Classroom With Our Environment program. More than 10,000 students have participated in the hands-on, interactive program where they learned about the waterways, marine life and how to be an environmental steward. In 2017, NRPA along with the Virginia Department of Health: Division of Shellfish Safety, Hampton Roads Sanitation District and Suffolk Public Works collaborated on a bacterial tracking project to identify possible aging infrastructure or septic tank issues that could impact the river and creeks. Over a 12-month period, the four organizations collected samples at 74 sites along Suffolk’s waterways. Previously 30 sites were sampled. The project was a success, several problem areas were identified and corrective actions were taken.

The next innovative project — NRPA is partnering with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to explore ways to increase the oyster population by using five different substrates. Basically, a substrate is a surface or material on or from which an organism grows, or obtains nourishment. The collaborative research project involves investigating different structures and surfaces for oyster larvae or spat to attach and grow to mature oysters. Oysters are natural filter feeders. One adult oyster filters up to 50 gallons of water per day. This means they feed by pumping water through their gills, trapping nutrients, suspended sediments and chemical contaminants. They then either consume them or shape them in small packets that are deposited on the bottom where they are not harmful. In doing so, oysters help keep the water clean and clear for underwater grasses and other aquatic life. The five substrates include: natural oyster shell, oyster reef balls, oyster castles, reef/tile discs, and oyster catchers. Oyster reefs are typically constructed using old shells collected in mesh bags and deposited along shorelines. Natural shells are not readily available. The oyster reef balls and oyster castles are concrete-based products. The reef tile/discs and oyster catchers are oyster shell substrate products designed and fabricated by two different small businesses.

A combination of substrates will be “planted” at three sites along the Nansemond River. The selected sites have different characteristics and locations. We appreciate the NRPA members who have volunteered their property for the project.

Over a two-year period, the results will be monitored and evaluated to determine the most effective practices in our region. These steps will lay the foundation for future shoreline oyster restoration work throughout Hampton Roads.

This creates an awesome relationship. NRPA provides local expertise, in-depth knowledge of Suffolk’s river and creeks, and network of volunteers. CBF’s decades of oyster restoration experience will help make the Nansemond a model for using natural methods to protect shorelines. Check out the NRPA website for updates.

Nansemond River Preservation Alliance has been serving the city of Suffolk since 2010 by educating and encouraging all citizens to be environmental stewards and work to protect the River, creeks and its tributaries. Information about our local waterways, NRPA’s projects and activities, and ways for you to make a difference can be found at: www.NansemondRiverPreservationAlliance.org or www.CleanMyRivers.com.

Elizabeth Taraski is president and chief executive officer of the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance. Contact her at taraski.nrpa@gmail.com.