By JENNIE McKEON
The Northwest Florida State College baseball team took time off the field last Friday to help build oyster reefs in Alaqua Bayou in Walton County.
"They were some of the fastest reef builders so far," said Erika Zambello, communications coordinator for the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance.
The baseball team started their day bagging oyster shells collected from 10 local restaurants and formed an assembly line to stack them in the water.
If you're interested in building reefs or any other volunteer opportunities with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, visit basinalliance.org.
Rachel Gwin, restoration coordinator for CBA, said the oyster shells are bagged in marine quality mesh bags. With the help of CBA staff, the bags are then used to fill reefs using a pyramid method. The reefs serve as a home for juvenile shrimp and fish as well as a food source for other marine life. When complete, the reef at Alaqua Bayou will be 1,700 feet long.
"It's also a good substrate for oyster larvae, which is a great thing since they help clean the water," Gwin said. "A single adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day."
Reefs also help deter erosion because they help break waves before they hit the shore. CBA has about 20 reef systems throughout Choctawhatchee Bay and Alaqua Bayou, which are monitored through a partnership with Eglin Air Force Base.
For the 20 years, CBA has promoted water stewardship of the Choctawhatchee watershed, according to the CBA website.
In 2015 alone, CBA constructed more the 13,000 square feet of oyster habitats made possible by 128 tons of oyster shells.
While CBA hosts regular volunteer opportunities, Groups such as the NWF State baseball team can organize their own event by contacting CBA.
Gwin said it's a good lesson for any age.
"They can see first-hand the improvements the reefs make," she said. "It gives you a sense of accomplishment. We appreciate it when anyone wants to volunteer. The team was very fun to work with. They were very spirited."