Ocean County 4-H Members Plunge Into Reef-Building Project

Aug 21, 2019
Photo by: Supplied Photo

Each year for the past five years the American Littoral Society has held a “Shell-a-Bration” featuring food, fun, family-friendly activities and, most importantly, creation of reefs to protect beaches from storms, erosion and rising sea levels, and to provide habitat for marine life. Earlier this month, members of the Ocean County 4-H Cross Street Riders, a horse club, and the new 4-H Ecology Club joined the society for its fifth annual event at Cooks Beach in Cape May.

“Saving the planet is going to be hard work, but it needs to be done,” said Nora Hansen, who is a member of both clubs. “Every little bit helps.”

As her mother, Wendy Hansen, explained, “For the last two years the Cross Street Riders participated in a horseshoe crab tagging event with the littoral society at Shark River, in Neptune. A club member’s father that works at Stockton University’s Coastal Research Center facilitated the club’s involvement with the Shell-a-Bration in Cape May.”

Thus the 4-H members, all of whom are students at Brackman Middle School, Barnegat High School or the Southern Regional School District, traveled south with their club advisers to help build reefs from bagged whelk shells.

Participants included Cross Street Riders members Hansen and Ashley Geddes, from Barnegat, and Riley Chenoweth-Hafner, Lacey Jernstedt and Grace Levitt from Manahawkin. Ecology club members are Colin Chenoweth-Hafner, Kieran Chenoweth-Hafner and Nicolo Secul from Manahawkin, and Hansen, Skylar Dasti, Emily Sellers, Nicky Sellers, Jordyn Weber, Patience Mares and William Mares from Barnegat.

“Both clubs arrived at Cooks Beach at around 10 a.m. and worked until 2 p.m.” on Aug. 10, said Wendy. “Three different reefs were laid out in the bay. The clubs worked on the third reef. Bags of whelk shells were stacked on pallets along the beach. Our job was to move the bags from the pallets to the marked-off area in the water. To accomplish this task, we formed a human chain to move the bags from the pallets to the edge of the water.

“Next, we carried the bags from the edge of the water across the mud to a sandbar. Once on the sandbar, we moved the bags to the water’s edge, where we loaded the bags into a flat-bottom boat and wheelbarrow. The bags were moved to the final destination at the reef and were laid in the proper placement and secured.”

After the work was complete, several of the scientists involved with the project “took time to explain the history, science and environmental impact of the reef-building process, and the impact the reef will have on the red knots (an endangered migratory shorebird) and the horseshoe crab population,” Wendy noted. “The scientists explained how the location was selected: its suitability, tidal conditions, water depth, food source and protection from weather and man-made distractions.”

As the organization states on its website, littoralsociety.org, “The reef projects are part of the work the Littoral Society began after Hurricane Sandy. After restoring beaches at a number of Delaware Bayshore locations, the Society began building near-shore reefs at many of those sites.

“In addition to preventing sand loss from wind-driven waves and and creating a natural and protective living space for numerous other aquatic creatures, such as oysters, the reefs also make calmer waters for spawning horseshoe crabs headed for the beach.”

“We are very proud of the hard work and dedication of both the members and their families to complete the project,” said Wendy. “This was a very difficult task that required heavy lifting, teamwork and walking through mud and water in the hot sun.

“4-H has the slogan ‘Learn by Doing,’ and the Shell-a-Bration experience embraced this ideal.”

Riley Chenoweth-Hafner said of the project, “I loved it! It was fun to be able to see the change we were making as the reefs were being constructed.”

“It’s very important to save and protect our ecosystems,” Skylar Dasti remarked. “Although many don’t want to take part in the work, it must be done, and we will do so.”

— Juliet Kaszas-Hoch


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