Newsletter Signup | Subscribe to Magazine

A reef for the ages


Stories by B.C. Rausch + Photos by The Sea Pines Resort/Rob Tipton

A new oyster reef along the 18th fairway of famed Harbour Town Golf Links has been completed, thanks to the efforts of local volunteers. The manmade reef — on the banks of Calibogue Sound — is a joint effort of the Outside Foundation, The Sea Pines Resort and the SC Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

More than 1,700 bags of oyster shells, each weighing about 20 pounds, were transported to the shoreline in two waves, put in place and secured with rebar. Several local volunteer groups pitched in, including members of Hilton Head Boy Scout Troops 222 and 245.

The bags created a manmade reef that will serve as a habitat for larval oysters, where they can attach and grow. The reef also will help control erosion due to human-induced activities, boat traffic and storms, as well as support other wildlife. Oysters help keep waterways clean by filtering large amounts of water, so the new reef will contribute to the health of the local ecosystem while preserving one of Hilton Head’s most famous views.

“The 18th fairway shoreline perimeter was really threatened,” said Jean Fruh, executive director of the Outside Foundation. “The existing, gray infrastructure was easily dislodged and broken down during storms. These oyster shell walls don’t move. What we placed here creates value.”

The blend of manmade and natural retention walls at Harbour Town creates a living shoreline into a purposeful infrastructure.

“The Sea Pines Resort is supportive of this and other environmental initiatives,” said Steve Birdwell, president of The Sea Pines Resort. “We know how fortunate we are to live on this beautiful island and will do everything in our power to protect our natural resources.”

In 2018 the Outside Foundation established the oyster recycling and reef building initiative, which has collected over 100 tons of oyster shells. Working with local restaurants, including those at The Sea Pines Resort, the shells are taken weekly from collection bins to a quarantine site at Honey Horn where, according to Fruh, “Mother Nature takes care of sanitizing and curing the shells, a process that takes three months.”

“This is truly a total community program — a full lifecycle from harvest to restaurants to recycling and back to nature,” Fruh added. “We don’t need to throw these shells out, it’s a win/win for all of us to keep shells out of landfills. The program can be implemented with very limited cost, and hopefully we can continue to expand it along the coastline.”

The state Department of Natural Resources was instrumental in the reef build, providing financial resources for the program through its SCORE oyster shell recycling program and overseeing the build.

The creation of the reef is only the first step of a multi-year program, according to Fruh. During the 2022-23 school year the Outside Foundation will work with local middle school children in a “seeds to shoreline” initiative where native plants will be grown from seed and eventually planted among the oyster reefs to enhance habitats.

Among the Outside Foundation’s most far-reaching programs is “Kids in Kayaks,” which allows nearly 1,000 7th-grade students and their teachers to kayak and explore the salt marsh as part of their environmental science curriculum.

Additional annual foundation activities include beach cleanups, waterway cleanups and the annual Keep the Broad Creek Clean Festival, an educational fair for families. Additional information may be found on the website LL