A Few Clouds

About The Zoo

Wetlands Restoration Project


The Virginia Zoo was awarded a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to restore the wetlands area located at the southeast perimeter of the Zoo’s main parking lot. Nearly half of the Zoo’s property is bordered by the Lafayette River.

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.

A small walkway and viewing area made of porous concrete has been installed and is handicap accessible. Additionally, a platform has been established to attract osprey to nest. 


  • 170 hours were invested by community volunteers, Zoo staff, Bay Environmental staff (contractor) and other partners to restore and plant the wetlands.
  • 9,000 plants (trees, grasses, shrubs and herbaceous plants) were planted.
  • The project included the reuse of oyster shells collected from area restaurants for an oyster reef.
  • Sand recovered from a Zoo construction was used as a substrate for planting shoreline grasses, and cut-off pilings from the construction site were used to create the base of the new of the oyster reef.
  • Renewable bamboo stakes were harvested for posts to rope off the area until the area is established.


  • Porous concrete was used to create a walkway/viewing area for visitors. This concrete allows water to percolate back into the ground.
  • The walkway/viewing area is handicap accessible.
  • The Virginia Zoo Education Department has designed educational programs to utilize this Lafayette River wetland as an outdoor classroom.
  • Educational graphics at the site describe the importance of wetlands and the impact it has on the region.


  • Healthy wetlands filtrate water to improve quality, create fish and wildlife habitat, assist with flood control and help with erosion control.
  • A single oyster can purify 50 gallons of polluted water in just one day, because they feed by filtering algae, which improves water quality.
  • Currently, however, only about two percent of our region’s oysters’ original population remains, due to pollution, disease and over fishing. With the help of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), volunteers constructed a new shoreline oyster reef that is maintained by Zoo staff. Each year, CBF will come back to count the baby oysters (spat) and monitor the reef’s progress. 


  • The Virginia Zoo is committed to conservation, environmental action and education dedicated to pollution prevention and wildlife habitat restoration.            
  • The Zoo was named a 2009 “Achievement Level River Star” by the Elizabeth River Project.

Project Partners

  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation, City of Norfolk’s Bureau of Environmental Services, Elizabeth River Project, Keep Norfolk Beautiful, Lafayette River Partnership and NOAA Restoration Center.

Site Map Contact Us Plan Your Visit