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“Over the last 10 years, we have added reefs, planted grasses and cleaned up the waterway,” Ryan said. “It’s a wonderful partnership with UNCW.” The project started as a community outreach event where members of the UNCW Benthic Ecology Lab worked with citizens. “Our original goal was to help the community design and build a living shoreline, in this case made of oyster shells, that would accumulate natural oyster larvae and develop into a functioning oyster reef,” said Troy Alphin, senior research associate at CMS. “This work coincided with other living shoreline projects that provided a baseline for comparison.” The project quickly developed into something much bigger. “Based on our first discussion and shell-bagging events, it was clear that the citizens did not want to be passive participants. They wanted to take an active role in both the creation of these oyster reefs and they wanted to know how the reefs were developing,” Alphin said. Many of the citizens in the St. James community have also volunteered with the project in other ways, gathering information and monitoring activities around the reefs. The community supports undergraduate interns in monitoring the reefs and areas around southern Brunswick County. The interns collect data, assist with the community restoration activities and provide periodic reports to the community.  Madison Lytle ’16 has interned with the project for three years. She has assisted in designing and monitoring oyster beds, conducted research and helped coordinate student and youth volunteers from UNCW’s MarineQuest youth programs and children from the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina. “This is a multi-generational project,” said Lytle, a marine biology major. “By their hands-on involvement, they’ve become true citizen-scientists.”

Volunteers construct the shoreline one bag of oyster shells at a time.

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UNCW Magazine Fall/Winter 2016