Last week, on an unseasonably warm February morning, staff and volunteers with the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and with the North Carolina Coastal Federation were hard at work bagging and loading oyster shells at the federation’s headquarters office in Ocean.
That Friday morning oyster shell bagging event was the fifth group of the week for federation staff members Rachel Bisesi, coastal education coordinator, and Bree Tillett, coastal specialist. This last one for the week was arranged in partnership with the aquarium, which has been a longtime supporter of coastal restoration and protection.
Wayne Justice, special activities coordinator at the aquarium, said partnering with the federation on oyster bagging workdays is a way to support local restoration. Justice said restoration is not something the aquarium does as often as the federation, so it’s good to collaborate on projects like these.
“The Coastal Federation has been involved in restoration for a long time, and they have it down to a science,” he said.
Justice also said the oyster shell bagging workdays are great for volunteers who want to be involved but don’t necessarily have time to commit to weekly volunteering hours or are just visiting for a short period of time.
One woman, a volunteer with the aquarium who was cutting mesh bags for the oyster shells, said it was her first time attending an oyster bagging workday and that she was looking forward to attending another one.
“Working with the aquarium is great because they have a wonderful staff, and we get to meet volunteers through them that we’ve never worked with before,” Bisesi said.
Wearing light blue N.C. Aquarium staff t-shirts, the aquarium staff and the volunteers worked quickly on bagging the shells. The group divided into three teams, keeping track of their progress on a whiteboard.
At just past 11 a.m., with about an hour of work left, they had already filled up the trailer with bags, which holds about 260.
Bisesi said in total, the aquarium group created 418 bags of oyster shells. These shell bags will be used in a living shoreline at Trinity Center in Pine Knoll Shores. The oyster bags will attract oyster spat and grow into reefs, which will provide habitat for many different species of fish. The living shorelines will help to stabilize shores and protect them from erosion.
The aquarium also has a living shoreline. Justice said the aquarium installed a rock sill in the 1980s with support from N.C. Sea Grant. The federation and other partners also helped with a living shoreline at the aquarium in the early 2000s.
“It’s nice to look out and see the marsh, with the tides still coming in and out, and all of the habitat and wildlife,” Justice said.
The federation is hosting another oyster bagging volunteer day on March 21.
Learn more about living shorelines at the Living Shorelines Academy.