The S.C. Department of Natural Resources has begun work to construct a new oyster reef along the shorelines of Hutchinson Island, which will be a part of a shellfish ground open for public harvest.
Planting 5,000 bushels of recycled oyster shells to create a new reef near Hutchinson Island, which is located in the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto (ACE) Basin, will allow for improvement and maintenance of the shellfish resource in the area. The project at Hutchinson Island showcases two facets of oyster shell replanting that the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) research and management programs conduct as the primary steward and advocat
e for marine resources. DNR incorporates a large-scale recycling and restoration project, as well as community-based volunteer efforts to replant shells back into the estuary.
The community-based oyster restoration and enhancement program uses the hands of numerous volunteers, statewide, to bag recycled oyster shells, construct reefs, and monitor water quality parameters at designated sites, such as the Hutchinson Island site. Volunteers from Beaufort County worked Tuesday, May 15th to build the reef with mesh bags of recycled shells. The community-oriented project fosters stewardship of the resource through public participation, as volunteers learn the importance that oyster habitats play to the health of the estuaries. More than 3,000 volunteers have participated in this aspect of shellfish restoration since the DNR program began in 2000, and they have helped to create 128 reefs at 29 different sites along the South Carolina coast.
The larger-scale shellfish recycling and restoration project that will replant shells along Hutchinson Island close to the reef constructed Tuesday is part of an ongoing DNR program to replant approximately 50,000 bushels of shells annually to maintain and improve shellfish associated resources statewide. This work helps to maintain 79 public shellfish grounds that are open for recreational harvest with the purchase of a saltwater fishing license. The DNR’s large-scale restoration project was the first implemented in the southeast, and many other states, including North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama have used this as a model for their own shellfish replanting projects. The program refurbishes harvestable public shellfish grounds with recycled shells that are collected from 18 coastal recycling drop-off locations. With help from a recycling conscious community, DNR’s shell recycling program has had a banner year during 2006-2007, with an expected tally in excess of 13,500 bushels of shells during the collection season.
This time of the year oyster spat are freely swimming in the water and need suitable structures in which they can attach. Replanting shells is part of the cycle for maintaining the resource during the warmer water seasons by providing this structure. Not only does the replenishing of shells provide for a more sustainable resource, the newly constructed reefs, such as the site at Hutchinson Island, also buffer shorelines from the impacts of erosion. Additionally, the oysters grow to form living habitats, attracting numerous marine species such as shrimp, crabs and small fish. Furthermore, oysters work to filter sediments through the water, and improve water quality by filtering as much as 50 gallons per day.