DMR relies on oyster shells, coconut logs to stop Deer Island erosion

MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - A unique project that uses natural materials to the save the shores of Deer Island is already making a difference. In February, the Department of Marine Resources made mesh bags from chicken wire and filled them with oyster shells. Those manmade bags are in place and ready to help protect Deer Island from erosion.

Playful dolphins and the beautiful scenery can distract you from seeing the slow deterioration on Deer Island. One section on the north side of the island is called "highly erosive." That's because it's been pounded by waves caused by boats, strong winds, and currents.

"You can see the trees that are out of the ground. You can see their roots. And then you can see when you look at the shoreline, you really don't have that sandy slope, which is really a sharp drop off," said Dr. Kelly Lucas, DMR Chief Scientific Officer.

So the DMR created a "living shoreline" that stretches about 1,600 linear feet. Staff members and volunteers have started deploying about 6,000 bags of oyster shells wrapped in chicken wire, along with 160-logs made of coconut fiber. The chicken wire, bags, and wooden stakes will degrade over time, leaving behind a natural reef.

"And what the reef will do is attract oysters spats and encourage them to grow there, and what will happen is it will protect the shoreline behind it by stopping some of the wave energy," said Lucas. "As that coconut fiber grows flat, it just provides extra habitat for the oysters to grow on and also helps stabilize some of the sand that's behind that oyster reef."

Saving the island has been a priority for DMR scientists. In 1850, the island had 770-acres. By 2003, almost half of the coast line had washed away.

The DMR has launched several projects to restore the shoreline with sand and vegetation. This project, however, is focused on protecting its banks.

"You can add land, you can do all that, but you're still going to have the winds and the waves and the energy that are going to constantly be a force that's working against you to degrade the island. So if you can find ways to protect your restoration areas and protect other areas that are losing sediment, then you create a more stable, sustainable island and environment," said Lucas.

The DMR received a $50,000 Tidelands Grant to fund the project. It should wrap-up at the end of the year.

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