Stories from the Bay
By Emily Hofmann, Project Coordinator, Conserve Wildlife Foundation
Although the weather was on the brink of being rainy and bleak, that did not stop a team of dedicated biologists and volunteers from building an oyster reef on the Delaware Bayshore this past Saturday. Committed volunteers and young people braved the weather to work alongside American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation to build a near-shore oyster reef at Dyers Cove, at the end of Dyers Creek Road in Newport, Cumberland County, New Jersey.
This reef – like the one at South Reeds Beach – was built to protect restoration work done after Hurricane Sandy and provide habitat. Constructed to prevent sand loss from wind-driven waves and create calmer water for spawning horseshoe crabs, this is the third of five such reefs that have been built by the Littoral Society and CWF. The conservation organizations will continue to monitor whether the reef breakwaters help reduce beach erosion and create calmer water for spawning horseshoe crabs.
Due to the heavy rain over the course of the week, the conditions were not ideal. Low-tide never went below waist deep, so it was hard to construct the reef accordingly. But that did not stop the team!
"Every oyster reef we’ve built so far on the Delaware Bay incorporated a different restoration strategy. We have had to adapt new strategies with what has worked best in the past and with what will realistically work based on site conditions. By blending the successes from the previous reefs with innovative approaches, we have been able to construct three reefs to date,” said Capt. Al Modjeski, Habitat Restoration Program Director for the American Littoral Society.
The bayshore beaches need restoration and improved resiliency so that horseshoe crabs have proper breeding grounds. Crab eggs feed migratory shorebirds, like the Red Knot, 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 $11 million in tourist dollars to New Jersey’s Delaware Bayshore region each year.
"New Jersey's Delaware Bayshore hosts an annual wildlife spectacle of global significance - the time-honored migration of Red Knots to reach the eggs of these ancient horseshoe crabs," said David Wheeler, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey Executive Director. "Volunteer projects like this help connect the people of New Jersey with these endangered shorebirds and the largest population of horseshoe crabs in the world.”
“Originally, this event was a bare-bones volunteer effort of placing shell bags off the Dyers Cove eastern beach," said Capt. Al. "But thanks to a donation from Betancourt, Van Hemmen, Greco & Kenyon, we will have a ‘shell-a-bration’ that celebrates the ecology and community of the Delaware Bayshore."
In 2015, over 130 volunteers and veterans built an oyster reef at South Reeds Beach in the first annual Shell-a-Bration. That same year, Veterans Day on the Bay dedicated the reef to all veterans and highlighted veteran involvement in the effort to restore New Jersey's Delaware Bayshore. The second annual Shell-a-Bration, held in April 2016, saw a handful of dedicated volunteers brave a blizzard to build a reef at Moore's Beach. The third annual Shell-Bration will be held this coming Spring 2017.
"There are many strategies to defend our Delaware Bayshore, but one of the best and most productive are these oyster reefs," stated Dr. Larry Niles, a biologist with the American Littoral Society and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey. "They not only replicate a lost but important habitat on Delaware Bay - reefs once covered much of the bayshore - but they provide just enough protection to make a difference in how long our beaches persist against the unrelenting forces of nature. In a way, we are fighting nature with nature."