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Volunteers do their part by bagging oyster shells

By Staff | Jun 1, 2011

More than a dozen volunteers took part in Tuesday's oyster shell bagging event at Bowman's Beach, during which more than 600 bags were filled.

Volunteers from near and far gathered Tuesday morning to offer a bit of assistance to their wildlife neighbors from Clam Bayou, bagging several tons worth of shells as part on an ongoing effort by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Marine Laboratory to restore local oyster habitats.

“This is absolutely incredible,” said Sabrina Lartz, an SCCF Marine Lab Research Assistant and coordinator of the shell bagging event. “All of the volunteers told me they saw the story in last week’s newspapers and were inspired by the pictures of the volunteers from the last shell bagging day.”

Gathering in a small clearing adjacent to the main parking lot at Bowman’s Beach, Lartz directed her fellow SCCF employees as well as more than a dozen able-bodied volunteers to shovel shells into heavy gauge mesh bags, tying off the ends and loading the filled bags into small piles.

Once the bagging portion of the project is complete, the filled sacks will be transported by boat into Sanibel’s Clam Bayou, where they will be deployed into the water to form new, living reefs.

According to Lartz, restoration of oyster habitats will benefit many important fish species, including snook, gray snapper, mullet, spotted seatrout, red drum, tarpon, goliath grouper and numerous ecologically-important invertebrates that support the fishery resources. Enhanced habitats provide feeding areas for endangered species such as the smalltooth sawfish, wood storks, piping and snowy plovers, least terns and manatees.

SCCF Marine Lab Research Assistant Sabrina Lartz digs into the oyster shell pile.

Oysters also filter significant volumes of water, improving water clarity, stabilize sediment and shorelines. Adult oysters release millions of fertilized eggs (May to October) which then develop in our waters over 2-3 weeks. They then must attach (now called “spat”) to a hard substrate (ideally other oysters) or they die.

“We’ve been coming here on vacation for years,” said Kerry and Laurie Person, who hail from Houston, Texas. “We wanted to do something to give back because we like this area so much.”

Jennifer Orlowski-Robertson, who lives in Cape Coral, agreed.

“I signed on because this is a good cause,” she explained. “I got my college degree in Wildlife Biology that I’m not using, so I like to utilize my degree whenever I can.”

Starting at 8:30 a.m., before the temperatures reached beyond the 80s, workers at the site — most of whom didn’t know each other prior to Tuesday — took part in the laborious task of scooping, shoveling, pouring and lifting their shell payloads.

Kerry and Laurie Person, vacationing from Texas, fill another bag.

“Now I know what it feels like to be on a chain gang!” joked islander Stan Howard, who along with his wife, Dani, took part in the second shell bagging event of the month. “We are always looking for ways to give back because we love the island so much. We’ll do whatever we can to help it.”

Another volunteer, Sue Walpole of Cincinnati, Ohio, was also glad to offer her help to the effort.

“I’ve been coming to Sanibel for 11 years,” said Walpole, who read about the event in last week’s Islander. “I decided to do this today rather than lay on the beach. You can get a tan doing this, too.”

Lartz, who has coordinated shell bagging events for the past two years, anticipated that a “thank you” dinner will be held in the near future for the volunteers who generously offered their time and assistance.

“We completed 602 bags of shell today and, combined with the 478 (bags) we did on May 17th, gives us 1,080 bags of shell,” added Lartz. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of the volunteers. They are a part of something so much bigger when they volunteer their time, because the wildlife they see and enjoy every day are utilizing the shell they bag and the mangroves they plant in some way.”

Sanibel resident Stan Howard fills a bucket with shells.

Volunteers are also sought to complete the current shell bagging project on Tuesday, June 7 at the Bowman’s Beach site beginning at 8:30 a.m. Lartz expects the work to be finished in approximately one hour. Please register in advance by contacting her via e-mail at slartz@sccf.org or by calling 395-4617.

Rachel Krauss, an intern at "Ding" Darling NWR, adds another bag to the ever-growing wall.