VARIATIONS ON A REEF
The 2017 Haig Point oyster reef build has been deemed a success and the Department of Natural Resources has determined that a new section should be built
The salt marsh is a highly productive ecosystem providing habitat, food and safety for a wide variety of marine life, birds and mammals. To help mitigate erosion, improve water quality and maintain this essential habitat, the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) and the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Program (SCORE) build living shorelines and artificial oyster reefs, including Daufuskie’s first reef build in April 2017 next to the community dock at Haig Point. Twenty-five Haig Point members, island residents and visitors successfully completed SCORE’s 96th volunteer-built reef (comprised of 300 mesh bags of recycled oyster shell weighing a total of 9,000 pounds) with the invaluable support of the May River Oyster Company and DNR staff led by Michael Hodges.
Artificial oyster reefs are not meant to be harvested. They are specifically sited along stretches of shoreline where harvesting is prohibited - often by marinas or where pollution sources are known. However, natural oyster beds do need to be present. Oyster larva prefer oyster shell as a landing pad as they float through the water column to their final resting place. Spat (once the larva lands) are sessile - they remain affixed for their entire lives, filtering food from the brackish water of the intertidal zone that inundates them twice daily.
As of October 2014, more than 25,000 volunteers have used more than 1,100 tons of shell to build 225 reefs at 69 reef sites along the South Carolina coast. The SCDNR is committed to collecting, recycling and preparing oyster shell for re-entry into the salt march and estuaries. Oyster shell is collected by willing restaurants and individuals after oyster roasts. Beaufort County recycling sites include: the Beaufort Bin at Beaufort County Public Works, the Bluffton Bin at Trask Landing and the Hilton Head Bin at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Shell must stay out of the water for 3 - 6 months to be sure that bacteria is not present. SCDNR monitors the collection locations and is constantly recruiting restaurants to participate.
“For years, South Carolina has had a critical shortage of the recycling oyster shell needed to maintain the state’s oyster reefs, with many shells going straight to landfills. SCDNR makes up that deficit by purchasing shell from out of state, a need that could be eliminated if SCDNR could recycle 20-25% of the shell available. Currently, SCDNR is only able to capture 10% of the shell available for recycling within the state.” (from the SCDNR website)Shell-Bagging events are scheduled regularly at the Coastal Discovery Museum and at the SCDNR headquarters on James Island.
Volunteers arrive to a huge pile of shell, shovels, 5-gallon buckets, PVC pipes and a spool of mesh webbing. The webbing is rolled out and cut in 3 foot sections and a knot is tied at one end. The mesh “bag” is slipped onto the PVC pipe. Buckets are filled with shell, dumped into the bag and tied off. These bags are stockpiled on pallets until they are needed for a reef build.
Another way that oyster shell is used for restoration is returning it to the estuary. Piles of shell are loaded onto a barge and with a hose are blown off into the water in predetermined locations where harvesting is allowed.
The recreational oyster harvesting season is October 1 - May 15. Farm-raised oysters can now be harvested year-round. Recreational harvest of shellfish (clams, oysters and other molluscan bivalves) requires a South Carolina Saltwater Fishing License - the proceeds fund this important work. See the SCDNR website for further information about public oyster beds and sustainable harvesting techniques.
The “washed shell” - worn and bleached white from the sun - that is found along our shores are protected and are part of the fragile and irreplaceable estuarine ecosystem. This shell has been in place for centuries, some from Daufuskie’s oyster industry (1880s - 1950s) while others are among the last vestiges of the native tribes that called Daufuskie home.
The oyster reef at Haig Point has been monitored for growth by the DNR. They have deemed our reef a success and determined that a new section will be built in August of 2019.