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Students from the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center joined volunteers from the St. Mary's River Watershed Association to construct a new oyster reef habitat May 19.

The National Technical Honor Society from the center completed community service hours under the direction of advisers John Spinicchia and Tina Mattingly.

They constructed a 4-foot-high column within the St. Mary's River oyster sanctuary, where a large-scale, three-dimensional oyster reef project is taking shape.

About 14 tons of concrete rubble, once a homeowner's patio, was hauled to the waterfront at St. Mary's College of Maryland and loaded onto a barge for placement. Marylanders Grow Oysters cages were also retrieved from homes off the St. Mary's River to supply 10-month-old spat on shell, or baby oysters, to be placed atop this new column.

Spinicchia, a natural resources management instructor at the tech center and a board member of the watershed association, said in a statement, “When the possibility of doing this project came about, they immediately jumped on it.”

Participants included not just those studying natural resource management, but students in engineering technology, health care and video production.

During brief breaks from the heavy lifting and boat rides to collect oyster cages, the association's program director, Allison Rugila, introduced the students to some of the many species that also call oyster reefs their home and explained the scientific rationale for recreating the three-dimensional structures that were once abundant in area waters. “The restoration of oysters contributes to improved water clarity and water quality since oysters remove suspended materials out of the water during feeding. Their filtering ability is simply astounding,” Rugila said.

The student volunteers took turns loading and hauling concrete, riding out with volunteer boat captains John Fulchiron and Charlie Sirico and making the trek out to the designated spot in the river to build up the column and plant the spat.

Approximately 3,000 oysters were placed by the end of the day and will be monitored and studied by biology professors and students from the college.

This was the first of what Executive Director Bob Lewis hopes will be many similar projects with groups from throughout the region.

The five-acre oyster reef development is a partnership project of the Rotary Club of Leonardtown, St. Mary's College of Maryland and the St. Mary's River Watershed Association.

To find out how to be part of this project, visit www.smrwa.org or find them on Facebook.