Georgia Southern students help restore oyster reefs in South Carolina
Eleven students from Georgia Southern University assisted the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) on March 2 in establishing a new oyster reef restoration site on Hutchinson Island at the Ashepoo River.
Led by Daniel Gleason, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Coastal Plain Science at the University, and John Carroll, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, the student group teamed up with University biology graduate Michael Hodges ('01), a biologist with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).
"Establishing this relationship with Michael Hodges and South Carolina DNR provides several outstanding opportunities for our students," said Gleason. "Not only does it allow them to make a difference by participating in an important restoration activity, but it also puts them in direct contact with individuals who can provide them with access to internships as well as long-term career opportunities in natural resource management."
With the help of SCDNR staff, the students transferred 350 bags, approximately 10,500 pounds, of recycled oyster shells from land to the shoreline to help form new oyster reefs.
The purpose of the program, known as the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Program (SCORE), is to plant recycled oyster shells along the shoreline to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs. Over time, larval oysters attach to the shells and grow and multiply until they form a vibrant ecosystem.
SCORE is a community-based habitat restoration program relying solely on volunteer groups to assist in establishing oyster reef sites. It is an important endeavor because oysters play a significant ecologic and economic role in the southeastern United States.
"Oysters improve water quality, control erosion and provide habitat for other commercially-important shellfish and fish species," said Hodges. "Unfortunately, oyster populations are declining, so restoration activities such as SCORE are needed to maintain the quality of the habitat."
The oyster reef restoration site established was the first by students from Georgia Southern, but there are already plans to return next year to check on the reef's progress and to extend the current reef by adding even more bags of recycled shells.