Jones Island draws volunteers, youngsters…and oysters

The idea of spending the day on a secluded island apparently is very appealing to people. About 4,000 volunteers have, to date, spent more than 23,000 hours laboring on Jones Island at Hammocks Beach State Park, turning it into an environmental education outpost and living laboratory.

Day camps on Jones Island give youngsters a chance to get up close with coastal ecology.
Day camps on Jones Island give youngsters a chance to get up close with coastal ecology.

The N.C. Coastal Federation, which teamed with park staff in arranging the project, decided to give everyone a day off Aug. 14 with a “celebration of coastal habitat restoration” on the 22-acre island near Swansboro. That included a picnic lunch among the island’s live oaks, yoga, kayaking and outdoor games. There was also ample time just to relax and digest all that has been accomplished in the past seven years – 1,850 linear feet of manmade oyster reef and 89,186 plugs of marsh grass planted along the shoreline. Boatloads of brush and trash were removed from the island, and a defunct private campground was renovated into a prime spot for environmental education day camps.

Even on the celebration day, volunteers decided to haul 500 bags of oyster shells to the island since they were headed that way anyway, said Park Superintendent Paul Donnelly. “It has been exciting and enjoyable to see how visitors from near and far have taken ownership of the island and have come out and participated in this project,” he said. “The last day, volunteers were still wanting to work, even though it was planned as a family fun day with a picnic.”

Roughly 17 acres on the island at the mouth of the White Oak River became part of the state park in 2007 with help from the Coastal Federation, a Clean Water Management Trust Fund grant and a donation of 10 acres held by Audubon North Carolina, One small tract remains in private ownership. On bluffs at the island’s center, the former owner had fashioned a crude campground, and some of its small buildings have been made serviceable.

Volunteers spent many hours leaning brush and trash from the island.
Volunteers spent many hours leaning brush and trash from the island.

Day camps were begun on the island in 2010, with youngsters learning about coastal habitats, in part by helping with the labor-intensive oyster reef and marsh grass projects. The oyster sills and revetments primarily are created from bags of discarded oyster shells. Along with the marsh grass, these slow erosion and provide a place for new, young oysters to attach and begin their job of cleaning the water and attracting a diverse group of fish and other marine creatures. Thousands of bushels of oyster shells have been carefully placed, partly with the help of a federal stimulus grant through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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