How Lynnhaven River NOW Projects Protect Waterways

The current issue of Boulevard (Feb-Mar-Apr 2023) published a feature on the history and work that the Lynnhaven River NOW (LRNow) project has done in the 20 years since its inception (the feature begins on page 12—you can access the issue HERE). Written by author/journalist and environmental advocate Mary Reid Barrow, the piece explains the decline of oysters and shellfish in Lynnhaven River due to pollution. By the late 1980s the river was closed to commercial shellfishing. In 2002 a group was formed with a goal of restoring the river.  By 2007 only 1 percent of the river was safe for edible oysters. Now in its 20th year,  the LRNow organization claims approximately 50% of the river is open to shell fishing.

What follows is a continuation of Barrow’s piece,  highlighting the various ways LRNow continues its work to keep waterways clean and healthy.


Working with our elected officials and our community leaders on good environmental policy has been a priority for LRNow from the beginning and remains a priority today.  

Everything we work on in public policy is tied to our other work.  For example, we have dedicated volunteers who hold cleanups every month.  Last year, we removed over six tons, 12,000 pounds, of debris from our waterways and wetlands in one year.  But we would be doing only part of the work if we were not working to prevent this trash from getting into our waterways.  

Through our advocacy, we have eliminated balloon releases and are working to get authority to charge a fee for plastic bags.  You will be hearing more about that in 2023.  And we continue to work to reduce single use plastics through our Pearl Programs and our trash free events.

litter picked up Balloon recovered from the beach

Trees are another good example.  We are planting trees and working to protect our old growth trees, but we are also working on legislation that would help us to protect and restore trees during construction projects.  

And we are working at the state level to protect the programs and the funding sources that help us to prepare our homes, businesses, and neighborhoods for sea level rise and increased flooding risks.

Oyster Restoration

Oyster restoration has been a part of our work at LRNow since 2002 and continued to be a focus over the past two years.

Oysters are a keystone species in our marine ecosystems and critically important in a variety of ways. They clean the water, removing sediments that affect clarity and underwater vegetation, and they build reefs that provide habitat for many other species.  Fishermen love oyster reefs because that is where the fish hang out.     

oyster reef restoration

SOS Restaurants

The restaurants below collect oyster shells for our SOS program.  All of the shell is reused to build oyster reefs in Virginia Beach.  It takes about 9,000 bushels of shell to build an acre of reef.  We built the Mary Louise Crutsinger Gayle reef in 2021 with an SOS shell.

Please thank these restaurants for their extraordinary efforts:

  • 1608 Crafthouse 
  • Abbey Road Restaurant
  • Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant 
  • CP Shuckers (Oceanfront) 
  • CP Shuckers (Bayside)
  • Virginia Beach Dockside Seafood & Fishing Center 
  • Lucky Oyster 
  • Ocean Eddie’s Seafood Restaurant 
  • Rockafeller’s Restaurant 
  • Sheraton Oceanfront Hotel 
  • Steinhilber’s Restaurant 
  • Tautog’s 
  • The Atlantic on Pacific 
  • Simple Eats Restaurant 

You can help out too, by dropping your shells off at one of these locations when you enjoy oysters at home or when you organize an event.

  • The Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center (East Parking Lot)
  • Brock Environmental Center (By the Street)
  • Welton’s Seafood Market on Laskin Road
  • LRNow Holland Road office, 3712 Holland Road, Virginia Beach

Oyster and clam shell collection for reef restoration

Spat Catchers

Spat Catchers support our oyster restoration work in two ways.  First, they collect baby oysters on the substrate in their cages that can be placed on sanctuary reefs.  And second, they help us test various types of substrate to determine which are most effective.    


In all weather, our volunteers are working hard to keep our waterways and wetlands free of trash.  They remove thousands of pounds of trash a year.  Last year alone, 10,000 lbs of trashed was picked up around Virginia Beach.

Water Quality Monitoring

Our water quality monitors are out every month collecting samples that provide us with valuable data on a wide range of pollutants.  In 2021, they collected 222 samples.  We look forward to expanding this program.

Water quality monitoring


Trees provide so many benefits.  They clean the air and provide food and shelter for many birds and animals.  They store water and help control flooding.  They cool our homes and protect us from wind.  And they make our neighborhoods more beautiful.  

In the past couple of years, over 1,500 hours of volunteer help were spent planting trees across Virginia Beach.  These trees will provide all of the functions listed above and, over time, they will transform the neighborhood.  In the coming year, we have more tree planting projects planned in Green Run.  Watch for opportunities to contribute and to volunteer.

The senior mature trees in our city are our history.  Some were youngsters before the Europeans came to Virginia.  Through our Notable Tree program, we have identified spectacular older trees and are helping to honor and protect them.  If you know of a tree you think might qualify, please contact us and we will check it out.

Conservation Landscaping

Conservation Landscaping is a key to good watershed management.  And we know that everything that happens on the land affects water quality.  

Our Pearl Faith Communities, our Pearl Businesses, our Pearl Homes, and our Pearl Schools are all implementing conservation landscaping practices on their property.  They are planting trees and native plants.  They are controlling drainage and run off with rain gardens, rain barrels, and infiltration trenches.  And they are learning how to create and manage living shorelines that provide critically important habitat and connect the land to the water in a natural way.  

During the past year, even more people have stepped up to do these important projects.  Many of these projects were made possible by volunteers, donated materials and tools, as well as property owner contributions. 

Native landscaping

LRNow anniversary mural in ViBe district

Two LRNow Highlights

Art inspired by LRNow’s 20th Anniversary tee shirt is now a mural in the ViBe!

One continuous line links a cownose ray to a great blue heron, to a leaping dolphin and other local critters on LRNow’s 20th Anniversary tee shirt and also on a new mural in the ViBe Creative District. The tether gracefully connects the animals intermingling with each other, regardless of species. The thin black line not only ties these familiar critters we all know and love to each other but also, hopefully, to us.

This world of connected wildlife comes from the creative mind of artist Summer Paradiso and her design was the winner in LRNow’s 20th anniversary tee shirt contest last spring and the winner of an opportunity to paint the mural In the ViBe.

“It is all drawn with one line,” Summer said, “to show an overarching connection between all and our impact we have on each other. “The animals are a reminder that we are not the only living beings in our environment,” she added. Summer recently finished her mural inspired by LRNow’s tee shirt, on a wall of Organic Beginnings Montessori School at 2006 Mediterranean Avenue.

This latest project of Summer’s began after her baby girl, Autumn, was born last year. Before that, she taught art at Bayside Middle School.  Now, she uses nap times and spare time to work as an artist at home. Blending art and the environment comes naturally, Summer said, because she grew up in Virginia Beach.  Her mom led the environmental club at Summer’s school when she was a youngster.

The ray, great blue heron, and dolphin are her favorite animals in the design, she said.  She also recalls feeling connected to them since she was little. “I remember being excited as a kid to spot a heron on a walk,” she said, “and the rush of excitement in a close encounter with a ray or dolphin when out in the kayak!”

Summer said she enjoys working in the ViBe also. She has done other ViBe art projects, such as painting the parking meters, and is excited about supporting the work they do.

The first day Summer began painting her mural, the public was invited to stop by to spatter paint, mainly in shades of blue, on the wall.  She wanted visitors to add their handiwork to the background on which she would paint the critters as the week wore on.  She was working from a plan but did not outline the plan on the wall. “If I try to make it perfect, it will look contrived,” she said.  “I always allow for flexibility.  I tell my students that too.  I don’t like to stay with a plan.” But the finished design shows a master plan at work.  A fox, a seahorse, fish, and tern are all gracefully interwoven with her favorites, the ray, heron, and dolphin, and they are all connected to one another with that thin black line.

And thanks to Summer, the celebration of LRNow’s 20th anniversary, the critters and their connection to Virginia Beach waterways and to all of us will last for years in the ViBe mural.

Volunteers moving oyster castles on the shoreline

LRNow’s largest living shoreline

Picture this on Linkhorn Bay some months ago:  2500 square feet of eroding shoreline, the size of a tennis court, 1175 oyster castles, 200 tons of sand, 1000 marsh grass sprigs and almost 150 volunteer hours. Now picture this:  Oysters, barnacles and other critters growing on the oyster castles.  Minnows and crabs at the water’s edge.   Fresh green Spartina alterna flora grasses growing in a new sand beach, protected by fencing to keep the geese away.

One day recently Bert and Betsy Reese also were surprised to see a horseshoe crab, probably on an egg laying mission, on their new living shoreline. “There’s always something going on,” said Bert, a retired executive with Sentara.  “Crabs all over the place, big fish eating little fish.” Had the Reese’s chosen to restore their eroding shoreline with a bulkhead, there would be no horseshoe crab crawling out of the water and no habitat for oysters and other sea life.

The Reeses have lived in their home for more than two decades.  Over the years, the property gradually eroded, Betsy said, but about three years ago, construction activity nearby accelerated the erosion drastically. “It was all mud and a big, big drop off,” she explained.  “We had to do something.” Betsy, a retired nurse, said that doing the right thing was important to her. She grew up in Virginia Beach and feels a personal responsibility to take care of the river. So, she decided to ask LRNow for help to restore her shoreline as it was meant to be.  Her decision went back several years to a Landscape for Life class she took that was presented by LRNow and taught by landscape designer Trista Imrich.  Participants learned to landscape their property with native plants suited to the habitat.

Before the class, Betsy worked hard to get plants to grow on their large, wooded lot and never had much success.  But now with native plants, her yard is lush and healthy.  That’s what she wanted for her shoreline too. That led her to LRNow’s restoration coordinator, Vince Bowhers, who explained how a living shoreline project could protect the property from erosion and restore the vital wetlands habitat.  The Reese’s immediately knew that a living shoreline was their answer. Vince connected them with Jim Cahoon, vice president and co-owner of Bay Environmental Inc., who designed a plan that would restore the shoreline to where it was when the Reese’s purchased the property.

Jim supervised the installation, carried out by LRNow volunteers who were coordinated by Vince.  The plan called for materials that could be delivered to the Reese shoreline with minimal damage to the beautiful intact marsh further inland and the upland native plant garden and woodlands. To hold the shoreline, Jim recommended the oyster castles, which are like Lego blocks made of oyster shells and crushed concrete, full of nooks and crannies that baby oysters will attach to. The castles were hand carried to the shore and put in place by volunteers. Sand to fill in behind the oyster castles was brought in by barge and volunteers were recruited not only to spread the sand, but also to plant the grasses and erect the goose fencing.

Shoreline building site

Both Vince and Jim agree that engaging volunteers helps lower the overall cost of the project significantly and educates others in the community about the importance of living shorelines. “It’s been an amazing project,” Betsy said.  “We have had wonderful help. They even helped me clean the marsh!”

The result is the largest residential living shoreline that LRNow has ever been involved in and the largest private residential shoreline in the Lynnhaven River that Bay Environmental has ever completed. “We are extremely fortunate to be able to see, firsthand, every day, the good it is doing to our little spot,” Betsy said, “but in the big picture we can hope to be an example for continued restoration projects throughout our beautiful local waterways.”

For sure, the Reese’s are setting an example for their younger grandchildren who visit their grandparents most weekends where minnow nets and fishing poles are waiting for them. “We have eight little ones,” Besty said.  “This is a paradise for them, and I want them to learn how to care for it too.”

Author and journalist Mary Reid Barrow has focused much of her career reporting on nature and the environment. She is a long-time volunteer and wildlife advocate who dedicates much of her time to Lynnhaven River NOW.

Photos courtesy of Lynnhaven River NOW