August 19, 2013
Local watermen honored for commitment to preserving the coast
…WITH SLIDE SHOW
By CONNIE LEINBACH
can’t really go wrong with helping build oyster habitat, said Gene
Ballance about his and James Barrie Gaskill’s work constructing
oyster-shell reefs along Springer’s Point and on Beacon Island in the
“Oysters are good for several things,” Ballance
continued. They create fish and crab habitat, they filter the water,
and -- the biggest plus of all -- they’re tasty eating.
watermen Ballance and Gaskill were among 13 people, groups, and
businesses across North Carolina who recently received Pelican Awards
from the North Carolina Coastal Federation, a nonprofit environmental
organization, for “extraordinary commitment to protecting
and preserving our coast.”
That commitment is shown in the
pair’s work obtaining tons of oyster shells from all over the East
Coast where they are dumped at Gaskill’s home along a canal in the
aptly named Oyster Creek. There, the two have put the shells into
thousands of mesh bags for placement along Springer’s Point and Beacon
Island, in the Pamlico Sound near Portsmouth.
Now the pair is
concentrating on creating what are called “patch reefs” at Beacon
Island, which is one of only nine remaining nesting sites in North
Carolina for brown pelicans. These reefs are rows of loose shells off
this island that does not have any beach.
“The shells give it a
buffer from the waves,” Ballance said. “A reef takes the energy out of
the waves coming in so that the water doesn’t beat against the
shoreline and destroy it.”
Tractor trailers bring the shells to
Ocracoke, and every other day, the two fill up 100 plastic bins and
transport the shells to the island on a barge.
“We’re on our third tractor trailer load,” Gaskill said.
great about oyster shells vs. cement blocks is that their uneven
surface is better for creating more habitat. Ballance pointed this out
as he guided his Carolina Skiff close to the edge of Springer’s Point
Nature Preserve where the two installed 5,000 mesh bags of shells.
From the soundside, one can get an up-close look at the jetty-like
“These make a habitat for crabs and little fish,”
Ballance said, “but they also protect the grass behind them.”
This reef will also protect the trees along Springer’s by preventing
the waves from carving out a cliff and the shoreline from collapsing
into the sound.
The tip of Springer’s Point already has a small
jetty from some large hunks of cement -- what locals call “rip-rap” --
having been placed there years ago. But the oyster shells create
an undulating surface—more like a natural reef, Ballance said.
beach on the other side of the rip-rap — a popular spot for both
visitors and locals -- has some evidence of erosion, he said.
“The oyster shell reef might help retain that beach,” he said as his skiff pushed away from the Point.
In about three years, Ballance said there should be new growth of oysters.
nothing destroys (the oyster bags), the oysters build on the last
generation,” he said. Not all oysters around the world do that.
Only Eastern oysters — the kind found all over the East Coast and the
Gulf of Mexico.
“These are the native ones,” he said.
knows whereof he speaks since he has been working with oysters since
1998 when he got a North Carolina Sea Grant to map the crab sanctuaries
from Oregon Inlet to Ocracoke. He also re-mapped the historic oyster
beds originally done in 1886 by Francis Winslow II.
maps are our Bible,” said Erin Fleckenstein, a coastal scientist in the
Federation’s Northeast office. “Gene’s mapping of those historic oyster
beds in the Pamlico Sound has been hugely helpful in guiding our
planning process for these projects.”
scientists believe that oyster shells emit a cue to oyster larvae
floating in the water to settle on them thus producing more oysters.
up Springer’s Point began in March 2012, which started with Ballance
and Gaskill placing the shell bags followed by the planting of several
hundred grass plants on the shore side of the oyster-bag reef.
work helped prevent further erosion of the shoreline from recent
hurricanes, Fleckenstein said, and Gaskill and Ballance took extra time
to keep the bags in place.
“They went above and beyond the project they’re working on,” she said.
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