SCORE Oyster Reef Build

It’s not every day that a naturalist volunteers to help construct a multi-family housing project on the banks of one of our precious waterways. On April 16th, I had the pleasure of working with several other CMNA members to construct one of the newest residential hotspots in the Charleston area.

Mesh bags chock full of oyster shells and ready for reef building.

Our adventure began at the Wappoo Cut Boat Landing off Folly Road, where I enjoyed a mini-reunion with my spring 2018 Master Naturalist classmates (Bob, one of our Lauras, and Adam). Many other volunteers joined us, including a group of Starbucks employees working together on a community service project. Even CMNA President Rick Calvert was one of our construction co-conspirators.

We gathered together in the shadow of a trailer overflowing with mesh bags packed full of Crassostrea virginica shells, better known as the eastern oyster.

Our general contractors were staff members from the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program, and our assignment was to build a new home for juvenile oysters in Wappoo Creek. SCORE staff explained the two main components of their program, providing oyster shell recycling centers where consumers and restaurants drop off discarded shells, and working with community volunteers to bag and restore habitats using those shells. Oyster larvae float freely in tidal waters, and they must attach to a substrate to survive. While they can attach to many different surfaces, oyster shells seem to be their favorite spot for putting down roots.

I’ve worked on the bagging end of the process a couple of times, so I was excited to see how the bags were used to create habitats. After a brief training on the most efficient technique for a human chain, we transferred hundreds of shell bags from trailer to boat within a matter of minutes.

We set off from the landing in three boats, hoping for fair winds and following seas. The hum of our trusty Evinrude serenaded us on a short trip west on Wappoo Creek, toward the Stono River. Upon arrival at the reef site, we confronted that old nemesis of kayakers and oystermen alike, pluff mud.

The SCORE team had brought along several wooden boards and we filed out onto the planks, teetering like a gang of mutinous pirates. We formed our human chain once again, emptying the cargo boat and stacking the shell bags side-by-side along the edge of the water. Spikes of rebar were used on the reef border to hold the bags in place.

Once the team completed placing the shell bags, we turned our attention to a little landscaping with smooth cordgrass seedlings behind the reef. It was only a matter of time before some roustabout whipped us into a frenzy, mentioning the recent scientific name change for our beloved cordgrass from Spartina alterniflora to Sporobolus alterniflorus. There with our lungs full of the pungent aroma of pluff mud, many made a solemn oath which echoed our state motto. While we breathe, we call it Spartina.

We completed our work and in less than two hours, we had constructed a reef which would serve as habitat for juvenile oysters and many other marine species. We had also created a barrier against erosion to help that area of salt marsh thrive. Once the oysters move in, the bivalves’ natural water filtration skills will help clean the creek as well.

We packed up our supplies, slogged sore muscles across the pluff mud, and boarded our vessels for the return trip to the landing. All souls and most soles accounted for.

If you’d like to get involved, SCORE conducts reef builds throughout the summer and they are always looking for volunteers. You can find more information at, including a link to the upcoming events calendar.