I have a 9th grader at Niceville High School. He needs to obtain 100 hours of community service to be eligible for some in-state scholarship opportunities. But more importantly, it’s a valuable life experience to donate time to great causes. Far beyond just filling in the volunteer sheet, it’s a great chance to give back to the local community. Additionally, it makes you feel good inside helping and leaves a lasting impression – especially on a teenager!
Therefore, when an opportunity presented itself over the summer to work with the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance,I jumped at the chance. They are constructing an oyster reef along the outside barrier of the island that protects Bluewater Bay Marina Complex and creates ‘Ward Cove’. The reef will help to control erosion from boat wake and wind energy, provide habitat for intertidal marine life, and promote the growth of live oysters. Live oysters filter water, thereby improving water clarity and quality throughout Choctawhatchee Bay. This is all part of an annual National Marina Day event.
Of course we love our local habitat and this event fit my son’s busy schedule. As a Keller Williams Realtorhelping families look for Emerald Coast real estate, my own weekends become a rare commodity. Once my husband and I spoke about it, we decided it would be fun to make it a family volunteering event to include our 12-year-old twins. In an effort to provide additional help, we contacted the marina. We own a boat and could help transport people to and from the reef location. As expected, they welcomed the assistance.
We showed up with several other volunteers early on a sunny June Saturday morning. With no time to waste, the fabulous volunteer organizers at Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance gave us some short instructions on how to create oyster bags by filling up net bags and how to properly tie them off. After about an hour of sweat work, we transferred the loaded oyster shell bags to a nearby barge for transport to the reef area.
We assisted in bringing about 40 volunteers to the reef area just on the other side of Bluewater Bay Marina. We had a great view of gorgeous waterfront homes in Niceville, which is one of my favorite views! We lined up in the reef as directed and transferred the oyster shell bags from the barge to the area in the water to build up the artificial reef. We lifted those bags and emptied the barge within about ten minutes moving them down the line. My twins weigh less than 70 pounds dripping yet but they worked like champs! While a group returned to reload another barge, many of us needed to stay behind. We grabbed some snacks and hung out in the bay. Hence, the kids really enjoyed that part! Finally after about 30 minutes, the second barge returned. Once again, we quickly unloaded the bags as directed.
At the end of our volunteer period (which took about 3-3.5 hrs total), we had built a reef! As a result, we created our own piece of Niceville real estate in Bluewater Bay (if only for the oysters). Although there was some hard labor involved, we all left feeling very satisfied to better our local environment. Furthermore, the family now feels vested in that area and will remember it for a long time. Therefore, I encourage everyone who loves our Emerald Coast home to do what they can to make it the best place to live!