This past month there was a service event hosted by DNR SCORE which is South Carolina’s Oyster Restoration and Enhancement program, the service involved prepping bags of oysters shells for building reefs this year. When arriving on the site for the work, the leaders of the project talked us over what we will be doing and how vital oysters are for the Carolina waters. Many people have hosted or been to an oyster roast and have seen the countless shells that are left after they are eaten and most likely they are thrown away afterwards. Only 2% of the oysters that are eaten have their shells recycled and that being said, the population of oysters is also drastically decreasing because of the overexploitation of the organism. When the oyster shells are recycled, they are able to help control erosion because they are natural breakwaters and protect shorelines. Oysters are filter feeders and filter the water of algae, keeping the water that they are in relatively clear. When oysters are taken out of the equation the waterways they were in become overcome with algae and fishermen and the local community have troubles trying to contain it again. The overgrowing of algae will also drive out the other species in that habitat causes the biodiversity to decrease in that community. When the bags are laid out into the habitat it will help the young oysters grab onto something so they don’t get stuck in the ‘pluff mud’ at the bottom and ultimately die.
The overall procedure of packing the bags include shoveling the recycled shells that were donated to SCORE from local families and communities, into buckets and then switching them into plastic mesh bags. The process of transferring the shells from the bucket to the bag is through a plastic pipe with a diameter of a basketball, this item makes the filling of the mesh bags much quicker and more effective. The tops of the bags are tied so none of the shells fall out and then a very important step is to bounce the bag off of the ground letting all of the dust and debris from the shells come off, so when the bags are transferred to the water, the volunteers moving them don’t get it in their eyes. The day I volunteered with SCORE and bagged the oyster shells, the overall total of the bags that were completed from the whole group was 600 bags at the end of the day. The program told us that a reef they usually build is around 300 bags, the adult oysters can filter up to 2.5 gallons of water an hour and the bags will provide a habitat for not only oyster but also fish, shrimps and crabs. Oysters are a very important species in communities and play a vital role in sustaining the biodiversity of the habitat.