Vermont college volunteers helping DMR restore Deer Island

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Time and Hurricane Katrina have taken their toll on Deer Island. Now, you can help save this environmental treasure. The Department of Marine Resources is asking the public to take part in a project to restore and protect the island. On Thursday, some out-of-town volunteers were among the first to lend a helping hand.

It looked like an outdoor factory at the Pass Christian Industrial Park, complete with an assembly line. Volunteers worked side-by-side with the DMR staff on a project to help restore Deer Island to its original size before Katrina.

"It'll help slow down erosion where trees won't keep falling in or we won't lose as many wetlands," said DMR Biologist Marty Jones.

Ten students from Johnson State College in Vermont are spending their Spring Break this week, helping to create a living shoreline on the island. The process starts with making bags from chicken wire. The next step is filling those mesh bags with oyster shells, sometimes by hand.

"It's been phenomenal. I've never done anything like this before and have to say it's been great," said Ashley Shotwell, a college senior. "It's definitely hard work. Some of those bags can be anywhere from 15-20 pounds, so it's definitely kind of a workout."

The DMR will deploy about 8,000 oyster bags along the north side of Deer Island, stretching about 1,600 feet long. The agency will also place 160-logs, made of coconut fiber, along the shoreline.  Both projects should reduce erosion and create an oyster habitat.

"I'm using chicken wire and it'll erode eventually, leaving just a reef free of debris," said Jones. "Hopefully in March, the oysters will spawn and we'll have clean material to attach to."

The DMR will start deploying 320 cubic yards of oyster shells in late March.

"It'll be fun and we can't wait to go back and tell everyone what we did and how it benefited the community and environment at the same time," said Edmund Harris, a college junior. "For us it's great, because it's going to have a multiplier effect. It's going to help with flood mitigation, erosion. It's going to increase habitat, not just for oysters."

Volunteers with Hands-On Mississippi also worked on the project Thursday. The DMR still needs a lot of volunteers to make the oyster bags, fill them, and deploy them on Deer Island.

The agency will host an informational meeting for people who are interested in becoming a volunteer or just interested in the restoration project. The meeting is set for March 5 from 9-11 a.m. at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center on Popp's Ferry Road in Biloxi.

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