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Volunteers assisting SCCF with oyster restoration effort

By Staff | Feb 1, 2010

More than 60 volunteers, many of them from Lexington Middle School in Fort Myers, took part in SCCF's ongoing Oyster Restoration Project at Bowman's Beach on Sanibel. As part of this effort, approximately 3,000 bags filled with clam shells will need to be collected.

A 10-foot high pile of sun-bleached clam shells, bits and pieces stood in a barren patch of land adjacent to the Bowman’s Beach parking lot last Thursday morning.

The seemingly daunting task standing before the army of volunteers taking part in the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Lab’s ongoing oyster restoration effort was to reduce that pile to the ground. And the only way that could be accomplished was by good, old fashioned labor – shoveling the debris into mesh bags, shaking the filled bags to sift out sand and other loose particles, tying off the tops and stacking them into neat piles.

To reduce such a gigantic pile might appear impossible, but only 30 feet to the right of the clam “mountain,” a handful of folks dug their shovels into an ever-evaporating mound of matter. Only hours earlier, the spot had been filled with a pile of clams identical to the other.

Thousands of scoops and hundreds of bagged debris later, it was almost gone.

“This had been absolutely amazing,” said Sabrina Lartz, a research assistant at the SCCF Marine Lab. “It really makes you feel like you’re making a difference in the environment.”

Lorraine Geiger digs in to the remaining pile of clam shells last Thursday afternoon at Bowman's Beach.

Lartz, who helped coordinate the ongoing oyster restoration effort, has been busy of late summoning the support of local volunteers to help bag clam shell materials. That material will be deployed into Clam Bayou this spring.

On Thursday, SCCF staff members and local volunteers were joined by 33 students from Lexington Middle School in Fort Myers, who took part in the effort as part of their science class curriculum.

The oyster restoration project in Clam Bayou is funded by grant and in-kind support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the National Association of Counties (NACo) as well as the City of Sanibel.

“It’s fun to get out and do something different,” said Holly Downing, an employee with the city’s Natural Resources Department, who stacked and counted the ever-growing pile of filled bags. “I think it’s very important to see these students getting involved. This is for everybody’s future.”

Oyster populations in Clam Bayou and other island bodies of water have become depleted in recent years, which has had a significant ecological impact on other marine species and their habitats.

Eighth grader Coby Pawlowski found a fossilized whale rib and vertebrae amongst the clam piles.

By 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 28, Marine Lab director Dr. Loren Coen estimated that the group had assembled approximately 600 bags.

“We’re shooting for around 3,000 bags… we should hit that goal in about four or five more days,’ he said, noting that for every dollar SCCF is receiving in grant money to fund this project, they are matching with volunteer hours.

Charles O’Connor, science instructor at Lexington Middle School, explained that the effort translates naturally into his student’s curriculum.

“Our school gets deeply involved in local ecological efforts and science programs,” he said. “Something like this not only motivates the kids to learn more about our eco-system but it teaches them it’s vital to take part in a community-wide effort. They just jumped at the chance to do this.”

Eighth grader Coby Pawlowski was one of the happiest volunteers at Bowman’s Beach last week. During the project, he discovered a number of ancient finds among the clam piles.

A 10-foot high pile of clams will be divided into mesh bags for use in the restoration project.

“I like finding fossils, but this is still about helping rebuild the environment and the oyster beds,” said Pawlowski. “I’ve been collecting fossils for about four years, and I just found a couple of whale bones and vertebrae. I hope to find some shark teeth, too.”

Megan Kemp, a sixth grader, added, “It’s nice to help the oysters get their homes back so they won’t die.”

Two more oyster restoration outings will be held on Feb. 16 and 23 from 9 a.m. until noon at Bowman’s Beach. Volunteers will meet in the parking lot.

Interested participants, including clubs and groups, must register in advance with Sabrina Lartz at the SCCF Marine Lab. Contact her by calling 395-4617 or by sending an e-mail to slartz@sccf.org.