Images (beginning upper left and continuing counterclockwise):  the UNCW

     BEL, our T-shirt Logo, and Volunteers Wayne and Mary Grossnickle along with

     Steve Eitelman from the Volunteer Appreciation Lunch 11/2009; and an Image

     Taken by Volunteer, Allie Sheffield, at Site P8.

Our Philosophy

The University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), Benthic Ecology Lab (BEL), has studied oyster populations in North Carolina since 1993. Most of this work has focused on the habitat value of oyster reefs in the intertidal environments of North Carolina; however, in recent years, the decline of oyster populations overall and the apparent impacts of runoff to our local oysters has prompted us to investigate methods and procedures that might enhance oyster populations, and our ability to restore areas where there are declining populations.

If you want to "restore" or positively impact oyster populations, you need to understand how many oysters are in the breeding population, how much habitat is available, and how many offspring they produce. The Oyster Spat Monitoring Project focuses on the last of these questions, being one of the more critical to overall oyster research, management, and restoration efforts. Since oyster larvae have the potential to travel relatively long distances before settling, we need to look at oyster settlement over the widest area possible...all of coastal North Carolina. We believe this is possible with the help of community volunteers!


The Oyster Spat Monitoring Project is a volunteer effort coordinated by the BEL at the Center for Marine Science within UNCW.

Volunteers along the eastern coast of North Carolina track the settlement of oysters on a set of ceramic tiles cable-tied to a "Spat Rack" design. In addition, volunteers collect information about the local environment, including salinity, air and water temperature.

The result is a completely unique dataset that provides a picture of when and where oysters recruit along the north, central, and south eastern coasts of North Carolina.

 Image Taken by Volunteer, Lee Bailey, at Site C1.


 Image Taken by Central Coordinator, Jay Styron, near Site N13.

Why Oysters?
Oysters are an important member of the estuaries that line coastal North Carolina. Oysters provide critical habitat for many organisms, such as juvenile fishes and crabs. In addition, oyster reefs stabilize sediment, providing a means of erosion control, and aide in water quality by filtering suspended food particles from the water column.

Oysters have also been an important food resource for humans along the coast. However, historical over-harvesting of oysters, along with increased pollution and runoff, as well as disease and competition from invasive species, have dramatically decreased the oyster populations of North Carolina.

There is a large effort in the state of North Carolina to manage oyster resources; however there is little information on when and where oysters recruit, settle, and grow along the coast. By providing such information, we can better manage our valuable oyster habitat.

Live Along the North Carolina Coast?


Contact Troy Alphin or Sharon Tatem
to become a Volunteer.

 Image Taken by Volunteers, Mary and Wayne Grossnickle, at Site O2.