Local Conservation Efforts

rain gardenConservation is one of our core missions, and the Virginia Zoo’s local conservation actions include:

  • Reducing waste and recycling
  • Eliminating Styrofoam products
  • Cleaning animal enclosures by sweeping instead of hosing down areas
  • Reducing electrical use by using sensors to turn on lights in guest restrooms, keeping lights turned off in hallways and unused rooms in the administration building, and keeping blinds open to use natural light in staff offices
  • Using drip irrigation systems in gardens (which require less water) and using the irrigation system only when rainfall is not sufficient
  • Installing three rain gardens to absorb and filter run-off storm water before it seeps into the Lafayette River
  • Restoring wetlands at the Zoo, removing invasive plants and concrete and planting new marsh grasses
  • Organic gardening, including rose gardens, so any plant materials can be fed to Zoo animals as a treat
  • Partnering with Chesapeake Bay Foundation to nurture oyster beds in river
  • Creating Eco-Garden featuring environmentally friendly garden techniques including composting and a dog house with a green roof to educate visitors about opportunities for their own homes.

Oyster Restoration

They’re not furry, feathery, or covered in scales, but oysters are some of the mightiest animals at the Virginia Zoo.

It takes just one oyster one day to purify 50 gallons of polluted water.  Unfortunately, our region’s oyster population has drastically diminished due to pollution, disease, and over fishing, but their benefits are needed now more than ever.  That’s why the Virginia Zoo is proud to partner with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (BCF), Norfolk Wetlands Board, NOAA, and many other organizations and government departments to help restore native oysters in the Lafayette River.  Restoring the oyster beds also helps to create habitat for other small native species such as fish and crabs.

Nearly half of the Zoo’s property is bordered by the Lafayette River.

Most recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation lowered 25 concrete oyster reef balls into the water along the Zoo’s Lafayette River shoreline in June 2013. Reef balls are dome-shaped concrete structures that provide a surface on which swimming oyster larvae can attach. Each one is seeded with live baby oysters called “spat.”

The reef balls provide an alternative substrate in Virginia streams and rivers, many of which no longer have the hard surfaces oysters need. They also provide the benefit of shoreline stabilization.

The oyster restoration initiative is possible due to funding provided by Restore America’s Estuaries and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The reefs are funded by the Rotary Club of Norfolk and constructed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The Zoo was recognized by the Elizabeth River Project for its Lafayette River conservation projects in 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The Virginia Zoo was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to restore the wetlands area located at the southeast perimeter of the Zoo’s main parking lot, and in October 2008, the area was cleared of concrete, miscellaneous debris and invasive plants.  Community volunteers, Zoo staff and staff from Bay Environmental braved chilly, late fall weather to plant marsh grasses, trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants in order to restore and protect the 500 feet of the Lafayette River shoreline.  The project also involved placing oyster shells just off the shoreline to create the base for an oyster reef and to protect the new plantings.  The work was completed in December 2008.

If you would like to help out by creating an oyster garden where you live, call the CBF at 757.622.1964 or visit www.cbf.org/virginiaoysters.