Volunteers work to expand oyster bed, clean shoreline

ST. JAMES, N.C. (WECT) – A living shoreline project has grown along the Brunswick County coastline thanks to help from more than 100 volunteers on Thursday.

St. James Conservancy organized the event with help from South Brunswick High School, UNCW and several community members. The high school students ranged from freshmen to seniors while much of UNCW’s help came from students studying marine biology. The youngest volunteer in attendance was Chandler Cottrell, just eight years old. His mother says he’s been lending a hand in the project since he was four.

“You get to get dirty and it’s just fun going to help the community,” said Cottrell.

Altogether, 120 volunteers spent just over two hours working in three areas. One part of the project is the oyster bed, 17 years in the making.

“You basically put them down in a stack, about three piles of oyster bags,” said Cottrell. “You then get a stake and hammer them down.”

While some crews worked to expand the beds, others focused on the marsh behind them by planting grasses

“They’ll help accumulate the sediments, adjust the height of the marsh, the height of the reef and the sea level comes up,” said UNCW research associate Troy Alphin.

The groups planted about 3,500 marsh grasses in total. Not only does it help with erosion but volunteers say it will give shrimp another place to flourish.

A third group spent the morning picking up trash in the marsh, finding things from water bottles to paddles.

“It’s been everything from hats that probably got blown off people when they were on their boats to children’s toys,” said Mark Perlotto, who moved to St. James just months ago.

Nearly two decades after first starting this conservation work, St. James Conservancy president J. Taylor Ryan couldn’t be more pleased with the turnout.

“It’s good to see them start at a very young age and it’s such a pleasure to see how interested and active they are to work on this project,” said Ryan.

What really makes it worthwhile is knowing the young people helping today will pass this on to the next generation in the future.

“I love to see it,” said UNCW student Julia Hansen. “Marine biology, environmental science and coastal science is, I think, a growing field and I think it’s really important. It’s great to see people passionate about it and working on it and kind of following in my footsteps.

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