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September 8, 2003 DNR News (843) 953-9310


The S.C. Department of Natural Resources Oyster Restoration Program will participate in Trident United Way's annual Day of Caring on Thursday, Sept. 11 in the Charleston area..

The Day of Caring is Trident United Way's yearly effort to connect employees of area companies with non-profit organizations for a day of volunteerism. More than 4,000 people are expected to participate in the Day of Caring this year, donating $1 million in materials and labor.

One of the more unusual volunteer opportunities during the Day of Caring is the S.C. Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) Community-based Oyster Restoration Program. While many volunteers will be working with children or the elderly on Sept. 11, those who volunteer for the DNR project will be shoveling oyster shells.

"This is a great opportunity for us because it is a pool of volunteers we would not ordinarily reach," said DNR marine biologist Nancy Hadley, who is coordinating the oyster project for the Day of Caring. "We are constantly looking for new volunteers. So we hope that some of the volunteers from the Day of Caring will want to come back or will be associated with a Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop that will be interested in participating."

The DNR is expecting three teams of volunteers for the Day of Caring, one each from Blackbaud, the Charleston Air Force Base 437 Civil Engineering Squadron, and the Charleston Air Force Base 437 Logistics Readiness Squadron.

"I think the volunteer teams were attracted to the oyster project because it is an environmental project that is done outdoors. So many people volunteered to work on this project that we had to limit enrollment," Hadley said.

During the Day of Caring, volunteers working on the DNR project will use recycled oyster shells to fill mesh bags. The bags will be stored at the DNR Marine Resources Division facility on Fort Johnson Road until late next spring when additional volunteers will join scientists to place the bags in area waterways. "Here they will provide a hard surface for attachment of baby oysters," Hadley said.

As these young oysters grow, they will form living habitat. Other animals such as shrimp, crabs and fish use the oyster reefs for refuge, spawning and nursery areas, feeding, and even permanent homes. "It's not just about oysters," Hadley said. "You would be surprised how many organisms depend on oyster reefs." Oysters are beneficial to the environment by acting as buffers from waves that can wash away the marsh and shoreline over time. A single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water each day, improving water quality by removing sediment and controlling algal blooms.

Although the roster is full for the Day of Caring, the DNR's Community-based Oyster Restoration Program is a year-round volunteer opportunity that has attracted more than 1,000 volunteers over the last three years. Volunteer citizens participate in a wide range of activities including recycling more than 10,000 bushels of shell that were used to build 70 oyster reefs along South Carolina's coast from Murrell's Inlet to Hilton Head Island. Activities include gathering recycled oyster shells, putting shell in mesh bags, building new oyster reefs using the bags of shell, assessing reef development, and monitoring water quality at restoration sites.

DNR scientists use the volunteer-built oyster reefs to learn more about oyster communities and how best to restore them. "Rapid coastal development and human impact poses a threat to oyster populations. It is imperative that we help them now before they reach a level of being in real trouble," Hadley said.

Although South Carolina's commercial shellfish harvest has remained stable over the past three decades, the closing of oyster canneries and most shucking houses during this period has resulted in a shortage of shucked oyster shell needed to cultivate oyster beds. It's beneficial to "put back" the shells because oyster shells provide a hard surface to which juvenile oysters attach. Basically, young oysters like to land and grow on other oyster shells.

The Saltwater Recreational Fishing License Program helps support the DNR Community-based Oyster Restoration Program.

For more information, photos and videos on the DNR's oyster restoration and recycling programs, or to learn how to volunteer, visit the websites and, or call Nancy Hadley with the DNR Marine Resources Division at (843) 953-9841 in Charleston.

- Written by Jennie R. Davis -





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