Living Shorelines

Malcolm Morrison, a Town of Oak Island Stormwater Advisory Board member, helps build new oyster reefs. Courtesy photo

Malcolm Morrison, a Town of Oak Island Stormwater Advisory Board member, helps build new oyster reefs. Courtesy photo

What: Oak Island Oyster Reef Construction
When: Wednesday, March 20th and Saturday, March 23rd
10 a.m. to 2 p.m. both days
Where: Waterway Park
1504 E. Yacht Dr., Oak Island
Cost: Free
Info: www.nccoast.org
(910) 201-8008

Living on the North Carolina coast has its many perks, like oceanfront properties and mild winters, but what would a seaside community be without a healthy oyster reef? Oysters help clean water, remove nitrogen and enhance water clarity, while providing a habitat for a host of fish and crustaceans. Plus, they taste great and are good for us, too.

This month the Town of Oak Island has partnered with the North Carolina Coastal Federation to host two of five volunteer oyster-shell bagging events that have already resulted in about 5,000 oyster shell and marl bags, which must be placed along the shoreline.

So far an average of 25 to 30 people have come out for each event, but public works manager of the Town of Oak Island, John Michaux, says that he hopes to have at least that many turn out at Waterway Park on March 20th and 23rd.

“We try to get a large crowd to make it an easy and fun day,” he says. “If we could have 50 to 75 volunteers each day, that would be great.”

Lee Butzin, a Town of Oak Island Stormwater Advisory Board member, and Ted Wilgis, the Coastal Education Coordinator for the NC Coastal Federation, work to fill bags for the oyster reef. Courtesy photo

Lee Butzin, a Town of Oak Island Stormwater Advisory Board member, and Ted Wilgis, the Coastal Education Coordinator for the NC Coastal Federation, work to fill bags for the oyster reef. Courtesy photo

In addition to getting briefed on the restoration logistics and safety, Michaux says that volunteers will get an overall project orientation, including the ecological value of the oyster reef and salt marsh habitat being created and restored.

“Oyster reef habitat is a critical component of a healthy coast,” he tells. “The reefs provide important fish habitat, oysters help to filter pollutants out of the water, and they support commercial and recreational fisheries. Using oyster reefs along the shoreline as ‘living shorelines’ to help control erosion and protect salt marsh habitat is a very positive alternative to using bulkheads, which promote erosion and loss of habitat.”

As volunteers lace their hands with gloves, they will form something similar to production lines in order to hand bags down from the stockpile of bags to the shoreline destination at low tide. Michaux said that once the bottom layer is built to form the base of the reef, the top layer of bags will follow.

Once the shells are in place, the oysters will begin to spawn during the spring, summer and early fall, which is why starting these restoration projects now is important.

“We build the reefs during this time so that they have the best chance to have oyster larvae settle on them,” Michaux explains. “We should have good oyster settlement on the reefs during the first year, and have one-inch oysters growing on the reef by the next summer. Fish, shrimp and crabs will start to live in, on and around the new reef right away.”

Volunteers fill net bags with oyster shells and marl. Courtesy photo

Volunteers fill net bags with oyster shells and marl. Courtesy photo

By splitting the project into two days, Michaux says it makes the work more manageable and keeps the day fun and educational for families who come out to help.

“The event is set up so that families and individuals can participate as they wish,” he describes. “We take time during the day to explain the project, pull nets and show everyone the creatures that live on the reef, and do other educational activities.”

Volunteers may choose to stay as long as 30 minutes, two hours, or the whole day to participate in a variety of tasks suitable for all ages and varying degrees of physical ability. Refreshments including water, energy drinks, snacks and lunch will be available to volunteers, as well as gloves, sunscreen, bug spray, first-aid kits, and other supplies. Folks should wear clothing which may get wet and dirty, and closed-toe shoes are a requirement.

The Oak Island Oyster Reef Construction volunteers will meet at Waterway Park, 1504 E. Yacht Drive, on Wednesday, March 20th and Saturday, March 23rd starting at 10 a.m. and ending around 2 p.m. Pre-registration is requested and should be done by calling John Michaux at (910) 201-8008 or by signing up online at www.nccoast.org.

In case of rain for Wednesday’s event, folks are asked to come to the Saturday date. The rain date for the Saturday event will be Sunday, March 24th. Plus, volunteers at the reef constrcution will be able to join the NC Coastal Federation at a discounted membership rate of $15.

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