Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Join the ‘Shell’ebration!

Its 8:30 on a Saturday morning, a little early for most people to be hitting the oyster bar, but for us GTM NERR volunteer diehards the party is just starting! No, we aren’t hitting a dance floor. No, we aren’t going to pour a tall one and start shucking. Yes! We are getting this party started right by hauling off a hundred pound waste can full of old smelly oyster shells! If this isn’t your idea of a party, well, then let me tell you more about why it’s cause to ‘shell’ebrate.

You see, oysters have a higher calling than ending their run in our stomachs (with their shells of course ending at the bottom of a landfill). To list only a few benefits, oyster reefs:

  • Provide shelters and nurseries for fish and invertebrates
  • Provide feeding ground for birds
  • Provide protection for shoreline and upland habitat.

As is the case in other coastal areas, water pollution, increased occupancy, over-harvesting, water traffic, and several other factors have taken a toll on the reef, and in February of this year, the GTM NERR launched the Community Oyster Shell and Living Reef Restoration Project. The project’s focus is on restoring the natural oyster reef at the southern shoreline of the Tolomato River on the Guana Peninsula in NE St. John’s County.

Community Oyster Shell & Living Reef Restoration Project Site

The project so far has established an oyster shell recycling program with four local restaurants (listed below) and is also partnering with St John’s County Technical High School to provide a hands-on education program. As of June 15th, volunteers and staff had collected over 7,000 pounds of oyster shell, one third of the 22,000 pounds that will be needed to complete re-construction of the site. After being collected and quarantined, the oyster shells are being bagged into 13 pound bags which will then be used to re-construct a living shoreline. Plants will also be brought in to help re-establish the area. Among other things, the project hopes to increase public awareness, provide educational & community service, restore shellfish habitat, and establish an ongoing community oyster shell recycling program for future restoration projects.

I said I would tell you why hauling heavy, stinky, used oyster shell was a party. It is true that this may not be the most glamorous job that can be found, but the real celebration is being able to stand and look back at the end knowing we were a part of something like the Community Oyster Shell and Living Reef Restoration Project – something that will have a marked and tangible impact on the unique habitat that has been gifted to us in NE Florida.

You can join the party too by:

  • Visiting a participating restaurant and tell them THANK YOU! (or better yet, order the oysters)
  • Bringing your own ‘recycled’ shells to the Middle Beach parking lot and dropping them off in the specified area for personal donations
  • Volunteering with the project! Opportunities abound from Oyster Recycling Runs to bagging and building events.

To learn more about the project and volunteer opportunities with the GTM NERR, visit our Volunteer Wiki site at:

We want to send a special thank you to the following restaurants and organizations, without them, we volunteers wouldn’t have much of a party going on! :

  • Aunt Kate’s
  • Cap’s on the Water
  • Hurricane Patty’s
  • Matanzas Inlet Restaurant
  • NOAA
  • Northrop Grumman

Students from the St. John's Technical High School

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