JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – The Oyster Highway in New River is officially on the maps. 

The highway is a part of an ongoing effort to restore the health of the river since the 1990s by creating reefs made of oysters. Now – these reefs will be marked on maps as the most “important fishing spots” in the waterway. 

Since 2019, over 10 million oysters have been deployed to New River, helping to continue improving water quality and attracting marine life.  

“The New River starts and ends in Onslow County, it is our responsibility,” said Stormwater and Soil and Erosion Control Manager for the City of Jacksonville, Pat Donovan-Brandenburg. 

Flashback to the 90s, New River was degraded from years of wastewater being dumped into it. So, city officials, scientists and volunteers came up with a plan to restore it.  

“The Oyster Highway is just an extension of the Wilson Bay initiative, which is something that we started 2325 years ago, and that was to clean up a polluted body of water you utilizing by valves,” said Donovan-Brandenburg. 

Now – we’re here with signs off the coast of New River Air Station that read “Reef Number 12.” So, how does all this work?  

“The oysters are filtering out the heavy organics, the pollutants, the heavy metals, they incorporate it into their tissues when they remove it from the water column,” said Donovan-Brandenburg. 

This improves the waterway and its surrounding environment, just one oyster at a time.  

“The reefs in general so they, I mean, not only are they cleaning the water, they’re providing recreational advantage or improvements, commercial improvements and then also benefiting the wildlife,” said Water Quality Technician with the City of Jacksonville, Aaron Houran. 

This has all been made possible because of grant funding, donations and state and regional partnerships. Going forward, they will continue to monitor and add to the reefs for the sake of the river.  

“While it is a small watershed, proving that this type of concept, and it’s not rocket science, but it is science, putting the same habitat that was here, way before man, putting that back is crucial,” said Donovan-Brandenburg.