LACEY – There was a “shell-a-bration” recently hosted by the American Littoral Society – a project designed to make the shore stronger and healthier – followed by a party to reward the hard work that was done.
During the event, recycled shells seeded with oyster larvae were brought to the shore. This is expected to not only help clean the surrounding water but to also help the reef grow. Then, as the reef grows, it will increasingly absorb the bay’s wave energy, protecting the land. This way, the shoreline will be clear, which will stimulate the growth of submerged aquatic vegetation and other marine species, but also calm, which will reduce the gnawing effect of open water currents, thus reducing erosion.
The event held at 1818 Beach Boulevard, Forked River Beach ran from 3-5 p.m., and featured a volunteer work session at the project site. The Forked River Beach site has lost over 150 feet of shoreline since 1995 and erosion there has been accelerating since Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Increased sediment in water from shoreline erosion has impacted the water quality of Barnegat Bay.
Captain Al Modjeski, the Littoral Society’s Habitat Restoration Program Director welcomed and thanked those gathered at the event who were ready to enter the water and start working., “This is truly a community-based restoration project that’s been a partnership between volunteers, as well as private, public, and nonprofit entities.
“This was a million-dollar project and we will be done by spring,” he added. “We had an oyster larval crash. It was hard to get oyster larva to finish this project out like we wanted to but we are talking to a contractor who will be here today and will be coming out in the spring too.
“Barnegat Bay is a little bit different when you do restoration because of some of the habitat underneath. The work here will set the precedent for future restoration in Barnegat Bay all because of you guys,” Modjeski said, crediting the project’s current success on the hard work and contributions of the volunteers from the community. “They have made it happen.”
Lindsay McNamara, the group’s director of development, membership and outreach said, “the Littoral Society has been building oyster reefs and living shorelines in Barnegat Bay to reduce erosion, create wildlife habitat, and improve water quality.”
She was teaching volunteers how to properly clean the shells. “These are literally fresh out of the bay. I watched Parson’s Seafood come in off the boat and count these and bag them for us so they are as fresh as they possibly can get. So, they are a little dirty so we are going to clean them.”
She noted that work on the Forked River Beach reef began in October 2021 and the reef segments were made from HESCO units, which are portable protective barriers often used by the U.S. military. Imagine a steel wire crate, four feet tall and three feet wide, that can be filled with various kinds of material – from dirt or sand to rock and shell.
Each HESCO unit/reef segment for this project used three connected galvanized steel baskets surrounded by eight outer pockets (aka shell faces). The interior baskets were filled with rock to help keep them in place. Modjeski said about 128 more cages which have already been built will be used.
Some volunteers made up the water crew and waded out to do their work. Others collected the shells in fish baskets at the shore line. “We had volunteer registration capped at 70 and that was filled pretty early. We’ve had so many volunteers with this who have put hours in,” Modjeski told The Southern Ocean Times.
“We had college days; student days and the MATES program came. We like to tie in different things that they are doing,” Modjeski added.
When asked about the continued financing of the project, Modjeski replied, “we’ve been doing pretty good with the funding. Because there was that oyster larval crash, we have to come back again and that costs money for our contractors.”
Captain Modjeski said, “this is a circle of life, we help the shell, we grow the shell, we eat the shell and we put the shell back out there as a sustainable resource which is what this is all about.”
Barnegat Bay historically had over 12,000 acres of eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) beds. Currently, nearly the entire natural oyster population is gone. With their elimination, Barnegat Bay not only lost the oysters themselves, but the services they provided, such as water filtration, wave energy mitigation, and habitat for marine life.
Littoral Society Executive Director Tim Dillingham said, “what we’re trying to do is protect property and the environment through a nature-based system.”
The day’s work was followed with a party to show appreciation for all those who have helped with this project. The party included grilled oysters and live music.
Project partners and funders include: New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Corporate Wetlands Restoration Partnership, Lacey Township, Bayside Beach Club, Stockton University, Albert Marine, US Fish & Wildlife Service, ReClam the Bay and Wildlife Restoration Partnerships.
For more information about The Littoral Society and how to support its programs and projects, visit littoralsociety.org.