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Oyster beds a vital key to coastal environment
Brunswick High School sophomore Aubretta Moore and junior Katlyn Johnson did not expect to get so dirty Friday.

As part of a group of 35 students volunteering to place around 17 tons of oyster shells in the creek near Overlook Park in Brunswick Friday, the pair learned quickly just how dirty of a job it is.

"It's very dirty and messy," Katlyn said. "It's fun, though."

The project was part of an ongoing effort by the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to rehabilitate oyster reefs throughout coastal Georgia.

To accomplish the task, volunteers formed an assembly line and passed 15-pound biodegradable mesh bags filled with old shells to the creek bed where they will hopefully become home for spats, or baby oysters. The shells were collected from oyster roasts and restaurants.

Between Thursday and Friday, more than 2,250 bags were placed along about an acre of creek bed near city-owned Overlook Park, at the intersection of U.S. 17 and Gloucester Street.

"It's a good idea to replenish what we took away," Aubretta said.

Since 2008, seven restoration projects have been completed in places like Jekyll Island's Clam Creek and Skidaway Island in Chatham County, said January Murray, constituent services unit leader for the state Department of Natural Resources. The Overlook Park project is the eighth.

The idea is to improve aquaculture and marine life in areas where oyster reefs have been in decline due to over harvesting, disease and habitat degradation.

The ecological services provided by oysters cannot be overstated, Murray said.

One oyster is capable of filtering 60 gallons of water a day, improving the quality of the water with every gallon, she said.

"They are a keystone species. If you lose them, you start to lose some fish and bird species, too," Murray said.

When that happens, fishing and crabbing in the area becomes much less fruitful for humans, she said.

So far, of the seven completed projects, most have been successful in creating reefs with vibrant oyster populations, Murray said.

When the reefs are restored, the entire ecosystem gets a boost.

"It is a win, win situation," Murray said.

Once all shells have been placed, the reef will be monitored every four months for the next two years to see how well the oysters are faring.

"Then we can visually show people how it has changed," Murray said.

That is also the hope of Tom Jones with a metro Atlanta chapter of the Isaac Walton League of America, the organization co-sponsoring the Overlook Park project with the DNR.

The project could not have happened without the help of volunteers, Jones said.

"We have had a great response," he said. "We even had some people drive by who stopped to help."

* Reporter Michael Hall writes about public safety, environment and other local topics. Contact him at mhall@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320, ext. 320.



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