Tag Archives: oyster castle

Eric Schrading and Katie Conrad at Gandy's Beach

People Behind a Stronger Coast: Eric Schrading and Katie Conrad

It’s a windy day at Gandy’s Beach, on the Delaware Bay side of the New Jersey coast, and everyone is having a hard time keeping their hats on. The waves are choppy, kicking up plenty of surf – the perfect weather for witnessing the benefits of the living shoreline oyster reef recently built here.

“When a wave hits, there are a lot of nooks and crannies in the reef that dissipate the wave throughout the whole structure or deflect it to the sides or down,” explains Eric Schrading, supervisory biologist at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s field office in New Jersey. “But none of that energy is forced into one particular direction, and that’s what the key is behind these – there’s a variety of directions that the wave energy can be dissipated.”

Schrading is standing on the shore with fellow FWS biologist Katie Conrad and Nature Conservancy partner Moses Katkowski. They are some of the key players behind the living shoreline project at Gandy’s Beach to repair and build coastal resiliency in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The project is funded with $880,000 from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013.

The living shoreline oyster reef, located just offshore, creates a natural defense system against the ongoing erosion and flooding that plague this coastline and community. Historical records indicate the Gandy’s Beach shoreline has eroded by 500 feet since the 1930s – and, with climate change bringing more frequent and intense storms and rising seas, the rate of erosion is likely to pick up.

“All the wave energy goes up on the beach or, where there’s little beach, it hits the marsh mostly at the roots,” explains Schrading. “So it just keeps hitting over and over again, and creates this scalloping effect where it takes away the soil underneath the vegetation, the vegetation then slumps in and you have continued erosion.”

Since 2014, the partners – along with help from dozens of volunteers – have built more than 3,000 feet of living shoreline oyster reefs along the coast at Gandy’s. Once in place, the structures recruit new oysters and eventually build up to be a self-sustaining reef system.

“We’ve been surprised at how many oysters have been recruited since we started this project,” says Conrad. “We put out pilot reefs in the summer of 2014 and they accumulated a lot of oysters.”

Hurricane Sandy dealt a massive blow to Gandy’s Beach and surrounding areas, so making this coastline more resilient to future storms is crucial. The living shoreline protects about one mile of sandy beach and adjacent salt marsh and is projected to reduce incoming wave energy by up to 40 percent.

“Maybe with major hurricanes these structures themselves won’t do much, because everything’s going to be under water, the structures will be 12 feet underwater,” acknowledges Schrading.

“But on days like today you see their value because you have a strong fetch that comes across the bay, and the first thing that it hits is the sandy beach or the marsh areas. But if you have these living structures in place, it basically takes that energy out of the wave before it hits the beach – it reduces a lot of wave force, which causes erosion in the first place.”

This is the fourth in a series of photo slideshows highlighting the people who have been working to defend their coastal ecosystems against storms in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. In previous weeks we have looked at Matt Whitbeck and Miles Simmons, combating climate change in the Chesapeake BayJulie Devers, assessing fish barriers and culverts in Maryland, and Kevin Holcomb and Amy Ferguson building living shorelines at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

You can view the continuation of this series and other news regarding our restoration and recovery projects on our website.

oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR

Building Castles to Fight Sea-Level Rise

No, we’re not talking about putting up walls and towers and turrets.

We’re talking about building homes for baby oysters. (Awww.) Out of LEGO-like cement blocks.

Sounds like everything is awesome, doesn’t it?

Well, not quite.

oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR

A completed array of oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR. Credit: TNC.

In the mid-Atlantic region, water levels are rising at rates three to four times the global average for sea-level rise. Places like Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the entire Virginia coast are smack in the middle of this zone.

One innovative and natural method for combating the impacts of sea-level rise is to build oyster reefs to help buffer waves and create a better marine habitat.

Volunteers and project partners have been doing just that at Chincoteague NWR. Over multiple days in April and May, volunteers donned their waders and rolled up their sleeves to assemble thousands of cement blocks into oyster castles at two sites. These castles form the foundation of the oyster reefs.

building oyster reefs at Chincoteague NWR

Helping hands assemble castles to create oyster reefs at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Chelsi Burns/USFWS.

“The oyster reefs will provide natural benefits such as filtering water and nutrients and promoting sediment uptake, so they’re vital to our marine areas,” says Kevin Holcomb, USFWS wildlife biologist at Chincoteague NWR.

“But there is also growing scientific evidence that coastal habitats such as oyster reefs, tidal salt marshes and sea grass meadows can offer cost-effective risk reduction in the face of rising sea levels and future impacts.”

Watch a video of the project and see a photo slideshow (from Delmarva Now).

How does it work?

First, crushed oyster shells are laid down as a “bed” under the castle blocks. Oysters will settle on these beds and the spat (baby oysters) will cling to the castles, growing up the vertical columns. The castles weigh around 30 pounds each with windows for water to flow through. The whole system creates a functional habitat for oysters and other marine life, including fish like striped bass. And it provides a natural buffer to oncoming waves, reducing their impact on the shoreline.

assembling oyster castles at Chincoteague NWR

Jenny Young hands of a castle block to Jenny Miller. Credit: Danny White/TNC.

When finished, there will be an estimated 1,400 feet of living shoreline oyster reefs at Tom’s Cove and 2,050 feet in Assateague Bay – two sites that were battered by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (See photos of the damage.)

Using natural methods of coastal protection like oyster reefs, living shorelines and tidal marshes is a high priority for the USFWS. With $167 million in funding from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, USFWS is working on over 70 projects to restore areas hit hard by Hurricane Sandy and build in resiliency to help protect coastlines against future storms and the impacts of sea-level rise.

Our awesome partners in this work include The Nature Conservancy, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation, the National Park Service, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

Read a press release about the work.

Oyster spat

Oyster spat. Credit: CSIRO Marine Research

 

Shells and students: Building living reefs in southern New Jersey

What do thousands of southern New Jersey students, millions of young oysters and Gandy’s Beach have in common? They all benefit from Project PORTS — Promoting Oyster Restoration Through Schools — an education and community-based oyster restoration program, run out of Rutgers University’s Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory.

Whew...shell bags are heavy! 1st grade friends from the  Boys and Girls Club of Vineland, N.J., help carry a shell bag they built to load on the trailer.

Whew…shell bags are heavy! First grade friends from the Boys and Girls Club of Vineland, N.J., help carry a shell bag they built to load on the trailer. Credit: Project PORTS staff

Since 2007, Project PORTS has engaged school communities in a real world oyster restoration project, constructing a living oyster reef more than 5 acres in size near Gandy’s Beach in the upper Delaware Bay. To date, this reef located approximately one mile offshore, has provided habitat for more than 20 million oysters and counting, says Jenny Paterno, a recent Rutgers master’s program graduate, lab technician and project leader for Project PORTS.

In 2013, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was awarded nearly $900,000 from Hurricane Sandy resilience funds through Department of the Interior towards a Gandy’s Beach shoreline protection project, which will improve the ability of the beach to withstand future storm surges and coastal erosion while helping to stabilize the decreasing oyster population. A portion of this work engages youth in oyster education and conservation at the Gandy’s Beach oyster reef breakwater project site.

Since this past March, the Service’s New Jersey Field Office has partnered with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and Project PORTS to involve several thousand local students who are building nearly 15,000 shell bags. The bags will be placed by hundreds of local volunteers this fall just off the shoreline at Gandy’s Beach in Downe Township.

Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat.

Waves crashing at Gandy’s Beach before living shoreline construction. Hurricane Sandy flooded Delaware Bay and eroded salt marsh habitat. Credit: Katie Conrad/USFWS

Gandy’s Beach is gradually disappearing, losing an estimated 500 feet of shoreline since 1930, based on TNC field observations and historic aerial images. The communities of Money Island and Gandy’s Beach have experienced increased flooding during high tide events and major storms due to the reduction of surrounding salt marsh and beach buffers. This also reduces habitat for spawning horseshoe crabs and foraging habitat for migratory shorebirds such as the rufa red knot, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Katie Conrad, a fish and wildlife biologist at the Service’s New Jersey Field Office and project lead, says the work will construct nearshore oyster reef breakwaters along high energy shoreline, coir biolog living shoreline (logs of coconut fiber wrapped in mesh) on low energy sites, and hybrid living shoreline that uses both techniques in one location. “This will help stabilize approximately 3,000 feet of beach and tidal marsh shoreline, and ongoing monitoring will measure how well the oysters recruit on the different structures, so future restoration projects can benefit from what we have learned,” says Conrad.

The benefits of these living shorelines are three-fold: they help prevent erosion for wildlife and public recreational use; buffer coastal communities against impacts of future storms; and provide habitat for underwater species in the face of climate change and sea-level rise.

A student at West Avenue School proudly shows off a shell bag built for the Gandy's Beach oyster reef. Credit: Project PORTS staff

A student at West Avenue School  in Bridgeton, N.J. proudly shows off a shell bag built for the Gandy’s Beach oyster reef. Credit: Project PORTS staff

For the past year, project partner TNC has been collecting clam and oyster shells from restaurants during scheduled weekly pickups in Atlantic City, as well as a local surf clam processing plant in Millville, N.J., which delivered the shells to a management site maintained by TNC. The “cured” mollusks are then distributed to schools where students build shell bags. There is also a shell pile at the Haskin Lab in Port Norris, N.J., where they are stored or used for bagging activities with after-school groups such as scouts, homeschoolers and Habitat for Humanity teams.

Since mid-March, Project PORTS has engaged more than 650 students at several local southern New Jersey schools, teaching curious K-12 pupils about oyster anatomy, lifecycle and ecosystem benefits while building shell bags that will help prevent erosion and preserve wildlife habitat along the shoreline. Students work in teams of two or three and pull stretchy mesh bags over large diameter PVC tubes, then fill the tubes with shell to efficiently build bags.  “We were at a middle school just last week, and there were 6 classes of seventh graders who worked with us for an hour each, and built 722 bags in a day!” says Paterno.

“A class of 20, 4th graders can build 100 shell bags in a half an hour. Never underestimate the power of a fourth grader. They always impress us with their enthusiasm.” – Jenny Patnerno, lab technician and project leader for Project PORTS

4th grade students from D'Ippolito Elementary School lift their full shell tube up to complete their shell bag.

4th grade students from D’Ippolito Elementary School in Vineland, N.J. lift their tube up to complete their shell bag. Credit: Project PORTS staff

Each bag measures approximately 17-inches long by 10-inches wide and weighs around five to ten pounds per bag. So far, over 3,000 bags have been built by participating students and there are six more Project PORTS partner schools scheduled for activities through mid-June.

As a leader of classroom education and shell-building activities, Paterno recently completed her Master’s thesis on the diverse species which inhabit the Project PORTS Gandy’s Beach subtidal oyster reef, such as striped bass, weakfish, croakers and blue crab. She plans to continue her work with Rutgers and Project PORTS as a lab technician, explaining the reason she enjoys her role in the project. “I really like education and outreach while doing the science and research, so when I get to incorporate those elements together, it’s really rewarding,” says Paterno. “Some kids have never been to the bay even though they live 15 miles from it. I like to inspire kids to be outside and get interested in science — and realize that becoming a scientist is definitely within reach and it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a crazy white-haired, lab-coat clad man with bubbling test tubes,” she says.

Jenny Paterno dissects and oyster with curious students at Assumption school. Credit: Cathryn Flammer/Assumption School

Paterno works with 7th grade and kindergarten students to explore the internal anatomy of an oyster at Assumption Regional Catholic School (ARCS) in Galloway, N.J. Credit: Cathryn Flammer/ARCS

Service partners along with an estimated 500 community volunteers will help construct the nearshore oyster reef breakwaters along the shoreline. The design will be broken into multiple sections and staggered, with each breakwater between 20 to 30-feet long, placing taller sections in front with the shorter breakwater behind it. “Oysters can live under both conditions in intertidal zones, sometimes covered by water, sometimes exposed to the air”, says Paterno.

Close up of partner-funded oyster castle at Gandy's Beach.

Close up of  oyster castle test site at Gandy’s Beach. Credit: Project PORTS staff

In addition to the oyster reef, man-made oyster castles will be placed along the shoreline as part of the restoration project. “The use of oyster castles, which are stackable concrete, blocks that make oyster reefs, will be used as we monitor oyster recruitment. With help from our partners, these living shorelines can help enhance oyster communities in the Delaware Bay,” says Conrad. Reef construction work is expected to start this August and both the reefs and oyster castles will be monitored for effectiveness by the Service and Rutgers staff after the project is completed.

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Project PORTS is an education and community-based oyster restoration program, which targets elementary and middle school communities in New Jersey’s Delaware Bay Shore region, promoting hands-on activities that teach scientific concepts and emphasize the importance of oysters as a resource to the region.

Read more about the Gandy’s Beach effort in an overview of the federally funded living shoreline projects led by the Service, making progress in New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.