Cosmo Massoglia used to think oysters were just shellfish you roasted or sliced your foot on if you weren’t careful at the beach. Now he knows they are integral to the ecology of the South Carolina coast; filtering water, creating wildlife habitat, and protecting the shoreline from erosion.
The 15-year-old sophomore at Bishop England High School installed an oyster reef at Daniel Island Waterfront Park as part of his Eagle Scout service project for Scouts BSA Troop 519.
“I’m building an oyster reef by the new docks to help prevent erosion of the already shrinking beach and to help remove dangerous chemicals from the water,” Cosmo said. “It should provide a good habitat for small sea life since the construction of the docks may have disrupted their natural habitat and some of the marsh grass had to be taken out.”
Oysters not only provide fare for seafood lovers and income for fisherman, they form reefs that support other marine life including fish, crabs and shrimp. They also improve water quality; a single oyster can filter up to five gallons of water per hour.
“Oysters are extremely useful to the environment,” Cosmo said, “and I have a very passionate Eagle Scout counselor when it comes to the value of oysters.”
SC Oyster Restoration and Enhancement
That counselor is Holly Kight, a wildlife biologist for the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (SCORE) program run by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR). SCORE is a community-based oyster habitat restoration project in which volunteers work with scientists to build and monitor new oyster habitat.
“Cosmo contacted me because he wanted to get his Eagle Scout badge and I told him OK, but that’s a high honor and you’re going to have to work for it,” said Kight, who mentored Cosmo for almost a year. “He’s the first Boy Scout I’ve worked with and I’m really proud of him.”
Kight said Cosmo did a great job recycling discarded shells from local restaurants and oyster roasts and recruiting his fellow scouts to help clean the shells. He collected 309 bags of oyster shells weighing more than 11,000 pounds.
Oyster shell recycling is an important component of the SCORE program. Most restaurants and caterers throw away used oyster shells, but it is a valuable resource that when returned to the water provides substrate for young oysters. Currently very few of the oysters harvested in the state are returned to SCDNR for use in habitat restoration.
“Annually South Carolina consumes 300,000 bushels of oysters but only 10% of shell is being recycled,” Kight said. “It’s kind of surprising how many people don’t know its importance, and that’s something we struggle with.”
SCORE offers a free service to caterers and oyster roast organizers by providing trailers to collect and recycle used shells. Staff members research local events posted on Facebook and other websites and contact people hosting oyster roasts to try and get the shells back.
“Oysters are culturally important to South Carolina and have been for ages,” Kight said. “Ecologically they’re important because one single oyster is filtering 2.5 to 5 gallons of water every single hour and when you live on the coast, especially in a developing location, there’s going to be a lot of runoff and it’s important to have natural water filtration systems.”
Oyster reef are integral to recreational and commercial fisherman because they promote robust fish habitat, and they also protect fragile marsh and beaches from erosion caused by boat wakes and storms.
“We’re seeing more hurricanes that impact our shorelines and marshland in a very significant way,” Kight said. “But when you install an oyster reef, or living shoreline as I prefer to say, it does a good job helping to support the systems that protect our shore.”
Kight said within two weeks of building the reef, Cosmo will be able to see the results of his efforts. Marsh grass will begin to grow and the reef will start attracting wildlife including raccoons and a wide variety of birds.
Scouts BSA Troop 519
Cosmo’s father, Dino Massoglia, is Scouts BSA Troop 519 committee chair and a lifelong scout. He said the Eagle Scout is the highest achievement in the Boy Scouts of America organization. To earn the award, a scout must attain at least 21 merit badges, hold a leadership position for a year within the troop, and organize, manage and lead a comprehensive service project.
“The Eagle Scout is the highest honor and the culmination of several years of scouting,” Dino said. “It’s a major feather in a young person’s cap when they go on to college or to get a job because it shows they’ve been dedicated to leadership and service from a young age.”
Troop 519 has been on Daniel Island for 15 years and has about 45 Scouts BSA in grades six through 12, and Pack 519 has 40 Cub Scouts in grades first through fifth. Boys and girls are welcome to join at all levels. In addition to earning merit badges by
completing educational and adventure activities, the scouts go on several camping trips and participate in two community service projects each year.
“The program provides a great opportunity to find like-minded boys and girls who enjoy adventure and being outdoors,” Dino said.
Cosmo started at age 6 as a Cub Scout with Pack 519. “That was fun but when I became a Boy Scout, I really liked the responsibility aspect of it,” he said. “I didn’t think I’d get to senior patrol leader and especially not Eagle Scout, but there’s something about the brotherhood of it; the little moments like splitting wood with your friends or sitting around a campfire until 2 a.m.”
He said scouting has made him a better person, and to be an Eagle Scout is to accept responsibility and perform hard work not only for your own personal gain, but for the betterment of the community.
“Cosmo wanted to do something that was ecologically beneficial and that’s going to make a lasting impact,” Kight said. “I couldn’t say there was a better project for him because he’s building a reef on Daniel Island, he lives near the waterfront, and he’s going to see for years to come just how beautifully it’s going to change over time.”