Virginia’s Oyster Heritage Program has begun construction on a three-dimensional oyster reef in the Rappahannock River in its latest effort to restore oyster populations in state waters.

Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley, in announcing the $108,000 grant to the Virginia Oyster Reef Heritage Foundation, noted that the funds came from Virginians who had made a voluntary contribution to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund through the state income tax checkoff.

The first phase of the oyster restoration program includes the construction of nine, 1-acre reefs on the Rappahannock. Each of these 8– 10-foot-high broodstock sanctuary reefs will be surrounded by 25 acres of 10-inch deep oyster shell, at a total cost of about $384,000 per site.

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission began building the reefs this spring and expects to complete four to six of them this summer.

Other elements of the program include monitoring the reefs to evaluate their success and educating the public about oyster restoration.

As funds become available, oysters will be restored in other Virginia waters. “As the Oyster Heritage Program continues developing public-private partnerships to help restore Virginia’s oysters, we are confident that more reefs will be constructed in newXareas, said Dennis Treacy, director of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The Oyster Heritage Program was formed by the DEQ and the VMRC to establish a partnership of nonprofit organizations, business groups and state and federal agencies.

The group has three goals: to provide a sustainable fishery for Virginia watermen; to improve water quality as oysters filter nutrients and sediment from the water; and to create habitat for the many species of finfish and shellfish that obtain food and shelter from the reefs.

The Virginia Oyster Reef Heritage Foundation was established to raise the private funds needed to match the challenge grants and public agency grants that are made for the program.

Those who would like to make a donation through the tax checkoff are reminded that any amount of a state tax refund can go to the fund and is deductible on the next year’s federal and state returns.