The task seemed imposing at the start of the day: Turn 50 tons of whelk shell into a reef off a remote beach on the Delaware Bay using little more than manual labor.
But thanks to 70 volunteers, aided by staff from the American Littoral Society, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, that mountain of shells turned into something worth shell-a-brating.
The work was done as part of the Third Annual Shell-A-Bration, an event which has brought together people from nearby communities to help protect and restore beaches damaged during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. This year's event was held on Saturday, April 8 at Thompsons Beach in Maurice River Township, NJ.
The Thompsons’ reef – like the three others constructed off Delaware Bay beaches – are intended to protect restoration work done after Hurricane Sandy. That storm stripped the sand from beaches critical to horseshoe crab breeding, migratory shorebirds and community resiliency. The Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation restored the beaches to their original condition after removing 2,000 tons of debris.
The reefs will prevent sand loss from wind-driven waves, create calmer water for spawning horseshoe crabs, and re-establish a natural habitat for numerous other aquatic creatures. Other oyster reef living shorelines have already been established at South Reeds Beach, Moores Beach and Dyers Cove.
Preparation for the Shell-A-Bration began months ago, when volunteers answered a call to help create the more than 5,000 shell bags that would be laid on the reef. Once the bags were completed, they were trucked on pallets by Cape May Salts Oysters to Thompsons Beach -- a remote location which can only be reached by a narrow, unpaved road that cuts through the Heislerville Wildlife Management Area.
On the day of the event, the near-shore reef site was marked and volunteers formed a human chain to move bags from sand to surf. The work was aided by a Mudd-Ox Ultra-Terrain vehicle provided by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Racing the rising tide, a double-row reef was built over an area larger than a football field, with 5-foot gaps between segments to permit horseshoe crabs to reach the sand for spawning.
The crabs are critical to the area economy. Crab eggs feed migratory shorebirds, like the Red Knot, a federally-listed endangered species which stops in New Jersey each spring on its long journey from South America to the Arctic Circle. The Red Knot and other shorebirds help bring $35 million in tourist dollars to New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore region each year.
Similar oyster reefs have been constructed at South Reeds Beach, Dyers Cove and Moores Beach. At annual Veterans Day on the Bay events those reefs have been dedicated to US military service people, in honor of the veterans who have helped build and monitor them as part of the the Littoral Society's Military Veteran Intern Program.
The reef projects are being funded by National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through their Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Grants Program, and are being developed in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife. The project which began immediately after Hurricane Sandy is scheduled to conclude this summer.
Third Annual Shell-A-Bration by the Numbers
5 foot gaps between segments for Horseshoe Crabs to pass through to the beach
13 Reef Segments
20 pounds per shell bag
30 whelk shells per bag
50 bags per pallet
105 pallets of shell bags
410 feet of reef
5250 shell bags
105,000 pounds of shell
Why restore oyster reefs
For more Shell-A-Bration pictures, go to: https://www.flickr.com/gp/7413855@N04/9w5662