It was Carolina Beach State Park on the half shell this week for the North Carolina Coastal Federation and a busload of college volunteers.
Those partners took the first steps to build a 600-foot oyster reef on the Cape Fear River side of the park by filling thousands of mesh bags with old oyster shells and marl. The bags will later be carefully placed in the quiet waters as an attractive new home for live oysters. It’s the first such project at Carolina Beach, though the Coastal Federation has been instrumental in building similar reefs at Hammocks Beach and Jockey’s Ridge state parks.
Students from Meredith College in Raleigh supplied some serious labor and, in the process, got a lesson on an oyster’s life. Oyster spat – the larval stage of the mollusk – swim freely through the water before attaching to a hard surface. A reef of old oyster shells is just what they’re looking for. An oyster reef can slow erosion, and even more importantly, can help clean the water and attract other marine life, creating a healthier shoreline.
To make the best use of valuable oyster shells, limestone marl is used for the reef’s bottom layer. The volunteers separated marl and shells into mesh bags using a system of plastic tubes fitted onto racks. The finished bags were stacked near the shoreline and will be placed into the water on another workday in April.
Below is a photo gallery about the process. Click any image to begin.