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Building up MacDill's oceanic ecosystem

Members of Team MacDill and Tampa Bay Watch work together to build up an oyster reef along MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.’s shoreline Oct. 17, 2013. The reef, made of mesh bags filled with fossilized shells, helps to prevent erosion by trapping sediment once it has passed over the reef and provides a habitat for some sea life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Hall-Kirchner/Released)

Members of Team MacDill and Tampa Bay Watch work together to build up an oyster reef along MacDill Air Force Base, Fla.’s shoreline Oct. 17, 2013. The reef, made of mesh bags filled with fossilized shells, helps to prevent erosion by trapping sediment once it has passed over the reef and provides a habitat for some sea life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sarah Hall-Kirchner/Released)

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- About 65 volunteers from Team MacDill and Tampa Bay Watch, over two days, added 1,209 bags of fossilized shells to the bar along the shores at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. Oct. 17 and 18, 2013.

"We started this about eight years ago, using two different aspects, oyster domes and oyster shell bars," said Andy Lykens, Tampa Bay Watch environmental scientist.

The 120-pound, concrete oyster domes act as a reef to which oysters attach and grow, said Jason Kirkpatrick, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron contractor and oyster reef project organizer and manager.

Bags of shells act as a barrier, trapping sediment once it flows over them and preventing some erosion from occurring.

"This project stabilizes the shoreline, improves water quality and enhances our natural habitat," Kirkpatrick said.

Shoreline stabilization comes from the shell bags and domes reducing wave energy, trapping and holding sediment, and encouraging marsh grass to grow.

A single oyster can filter up to 20 gallons of water per day, improving water quality.

Diversified habitats increase food sources and encourage marine life and plants, such as mangroves, to live in MacDill's coastal waters.

"The base saw a need to anchor the shoreline due to erosion from the shipping channel and storms," said Lykens. "This has been a collaboration to save the shoreline for MacDill Air Force Base."

Since 2004, Team MacDill and the local community have been rebuilding the shoreline. Adding about 6,000 oyster domes and approximately 5,300 feet of reef to the habitat, the project has done what it is meant to do, prevent erosion, attract wildlife and grow the amount of plant life.

"The work done this week brings us closer to finishing up phase four of the oyster reef shoreline stabilization project," said Kirkpatrick. "To date, we have installed over 6,000 domes and 100 tons of oyster shell along the southeastern shoreline, protecting approximately 4,500 linear feet of shoreline."

Future events are planned and more information can be obtained by contacting Kirkpatrick at 813-828-0459.