Creating Living Shorelines

Oyster Reefs on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge

Oyster castles

For the visitors at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, these objects in the distance look like miniature sand castles.

Photo: Kevin Holcomb/USFWS

But they’re oyster castles. They were designed to protect Virginia’s shorelines. The “castles” weigh about 30 pounds and look like cinderblocks. They provide a structure for the oysters spat, or young, to stick to and then grow upon, by providing a vital structure.

It’s a feature that is protecting our coastal communities. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Nature Conservancy, and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission installed a total of 13,570 oyster castles at two sites on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

They act as a wave breaks making the salt-marsh habitat and our roads more resilient in the face of future storms. As a living shoreline, they also provide ecosystem services such as nutrient removal, uptake of sediments, water filtration, increased water quality and increased biomass, and habitat for other marine organisms. The structures and the life they support will prevent erosion and reduce the impact of storms.

Visit the Shoreline and See For Yourself…

If you’re visiting Chincoteague check out the shoreline! Visitors are welcome to paddle around the 3,550 linear feet of living shoreline in Little Toms Cove & Assateague Bay. Bright yellow signs will help you locate the seven-foot-long castle arrays even when they are submerged during high tides. It’s a great opportunity to see the diversity of life that oyster castles support. We just ask you don’t harvest anything from these growing natural area.