, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 240-249

First online:

The geomorphic development of wreck shoal, a subtidal oyster reef of the James River, Virginia

  • Joseph T. DeAlterisAffiliated withDepartment of Fisheries, Animal, and Veterinary Science, University of Rhode Island

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Wreck Shoal is a subtidal oyster reef located in the James River estuary, Virginia. This estuary has moved upstream and landward in response to rising sea level. The recent geomorphic history of Wreck Shoal is analyzed based on bathymetric records from the 1850’s to the 1980’s. The data indicate that the shallow oyster reef areas have lost elevation in the last 130 yr. This is attributed to intense harvesting activity during the last century. The late Holocene evolution of Wreck Shoal is developed based on the results of sub-bottom profiles and coring data. These suggest that the Wreck Shoal oyster reef has developed on the ridge and swale topography of a point-bar formed during the late Pleistocene epoch. Contemporary biodeposition processes on Wreck Shoal are evaluated. The results indicate that sediments of biogenic origin (fecal and shell material) potentially accumulate at rates in excess of 50 cm 100 years−1. A model for subtidal oyster reef development is proposed that accounts for sea level rise, biodeposition, and the harvesting activity of man. The model is verified with field observations of reef elevation and radiocarbon dates of oyster shell material. The implications of these results are that oyster reefs should be considered a renewable natural resource, and therefore managed accordingly in concert with the oysters.