Marine Science Club Volunteers in Virginia

By Chris Powers
SC Staff Writer

ESU’s Marine Science Club traveled to Wallops Island last weekend to volunteer with an ecosystem restoration and monitoring research project being conducted in Greenbackville, Virginia.

In the past, Greenbackville centered around a huge oyster production plant that took advantage of the abundance of these animals in the surrounding waters.

However, due to overharvesting and the many hurricanes that have swept through the region in recent years, the oyster population has suffered.

As a result of this, the ecology of the beach and the associated bays and marshes has been rapidly changing.

Dr. Sean Cornell, a professor from Shippensburg University, who hopes to rebuild the damaged ecosystem and return it to the state it was in a century ago, is leading the group.

The Marine Science Club also volunteered in this project last semester, when they visited Wallops Island over spring break.

During this time, the Marine Science Club focused on controlling an invasive species of grass by physical removal and the construction of reef reinforcement bags, which are simply plastic mesh bags filled with oyster shells.

The work done by the Marine Science Club volunteers last semester served as a base for the work done this past weekend.

According to Drew Costenbader, one of the Marine Science Club members on the trip, “Storms have been eroding the shore in Greenbackville, so we restored part of the beach and replanted some of the marsh grasses.”

In order to prevent storm damage, Costenbader said, “We put some of the oyster bags made during spring break out in the water to create an artificial reef to block waves from tearing up the beach and the newly planted march grass.”

With the actions taken to protect this estuarine system, many hope the ecology of the area will reach a new balance and restore itself.

In addition to the ecosystem restoration goals of the project, Cornell hopes to install many ecosystem monitoring systems.

According to Costenbader, “Shippensburg also had some computer science and engineering students there that were surveying and getting a feel for the environment at Greenbackville.”

Costenbader said, “[These students] will be designing sensors that will be placed in the marsh and bay to collect data. The plan is to make the sensors able to wirelessly transfer the collected data straight to a cellphone.”

Cornell has high hopes for this part of the project. Costenbader said, “Dr. Cornell hopes that the bay in Greenbackville will one day be the most monitored bay in the U.S. — or even the world.”

Dr. James Hunt, ESU biology professor and marine science professor, also has an ongoing project at Greenbackville.

The marine science majors collected data for Hunt’s project this past weekend.

Part of Hunt’s project is looking at small organisms living in the sediments in Greenbackville Bay. These organisms are called meiofauna.

Constenbader said, “The ESU students collected samples for Dr. Hunt’s meiofauna project around the beach and the oyster castles.”

This weekend trip offered valuable research and volunteering for several marine science students.

Additionally, since marine science students have to take required classes at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station, this weekend served as an introduction to the campus and area for many new marine science majors.

Andrew DeCredico, a freshman marine science major, said, “ I thought it was really fun. Campus was cool — really small — but all of it was awesome.”

Students interested in taking classes at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station should visit, or contact Dr. Hunt at

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