Muddy work to help oysters

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Volunteers learn while helping habitat 

MIDDLE TOWNSHIP – Volunteers came away muddy, wet and with cuts Friday after loading more than 2,000 bags of shells onto a barge along the Delaware Bay in Greek Creek.

But their efforts will help support oyster restoration.

“I do it just as an activity,” said Dennis Dutton, 75, of Dennis Township.

He’s used to getting muddy. He’s been volunteering for the program for six years, he said.

Dutton learned about the project through an environmental class he took in Cape May County, he said.

He’s always had been interested in the environment, and he said he’d rather spend time outside than in.

Dutton has also volunteered with The Wetlands Institute in Middle Township and the Nature Conservancy.

This time, he was working for Project PORTS: Promoting Oyster Restoration through Schools, an initiative of Rutgers University, New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium and the American Littoral Society.

While the project aims at improving oyster populations, a main goal is outreach and education. According to project officials, goals include increasing awareness of oysters as a species and a resource, and to promote understanding “scientific concepts and stewardship values.”

About 20 people loaded the vessel with clamshells covered with millions of oyster larvae at the Rutgers Cape Shore Facility in Green Creek in Middle Township.

The shells were taken to Gandy’s Beach Oyster Restoration Enhancement Area in Cumberland County on Friday, at a location that has been absent of oysters for decades, according to information from the organizers.

According to biologists, disease, historical overfishing, pollution and sedimentation from upland runoff have been attributed to the rapid reduction of the Delaware Bay oyster population dating back to the early 20th century.

The hard shells provide a place where oysters can spawn, said Bill Shadel, habitat restoration program director of the American Littoral Society.

Oysters carry plenty of benefits, such as improving water quality, said Matthew Blake, Delaware Bay program manager, American Littoral Society. Oysters will create reefs, resulting in a nursery habitat for crabs, fish and other marine life.

In June, volunteers planted shells along the Delaware Bay in Middle Township. Oyster larvae, also called spat, become attached to the shells.

On Aug. 24, people put bags of shells onto the vessel.

Peggy Fogarty-Harnish of Lancaster, Pa., figured she’d bring her children to Friday’s event.

She has been helping clam and oyster growers in trying to market the product as a food source, she said.

Fogarty-Harnish is with the Pa.-based group Keystone Development Center, which has a mission of sustaining communities, economies, and resources in rural areas through cooperatively owned businesses.

As they walked toward the barge, Peggy pointed out how muddy volunteers were.

“I like mud,” said her daughter, 11 Maggie.

Jody Carrara of Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions called the work fun.

 “Muddy and good hard work,” she said.

Carrara of Leesburg showed off her cuts and how muddy she was.

“And it’s a great way to get into the Delaware Bay – literally,” she said.

Her friend, Patti Burns of Woodbury said the Delaware Bay project work brings camaraderie.

Several airmen from the McGuire Air Force Base – now known as Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst - turned out Friday in Green Creek.

“We think it’s important to participate with the local community,” said Master Sgt. Leonard Morlino of Moorestown.

Morlino added that he’s passionate about conservation.

“Anytime you help our habitat, you’re helping us,” he said.

He also brought his two teenaged children to the event.

Earlier this year, about 500 students put together shell bags as part of Project PORTS: Promoting Oyster Restoration through Schools, mostly from Cumberland County. Cape May County 4-H Cyber Explorers club was also involved, said Lisa Calvo of Rutgers University, program coordinator.

The students are able to learn history, among other things, she said.

“So the oyster becomes a great vehicle for education,” Calvo said.

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