Community Engagement at VCU: Restoring Oyster Populations in the Chesapeake Bay with VCU Service Hours

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The article below was written for the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for Community Engagement and Impact. The content was used on the center’s website, social media and e-newsletters as part of a campaign to increase VCU employees’ usage of their community service leave.

Read the article online.


Restoring Oyster Populations in the Chesapeake Bay with VCU Service Hours

By Jenny Pedraza

If you’ve ever eaten oysters at a restaurant in Central or Eastern Virginia, your discarded oyster shells may not have ended up in the trash when your plate was cleared.

Since 2013, the VCU Rice Rivers Center has facilitated the collection of waste oyster shells from 50 restaurants and returned them to the Virginia portion of the Chesapeake Bay to help restore wild oyster populations, improve water quality and provide new fish habitat.

According to the center, oysters filter more than 50 gallons of water per day. As oyster reefs expand, they provide habitat for blue crabs, striped bass and red drum and help mitigate storm-induced shoreline erosion. As those reefs decompose, they act like an antacid and help balance the pH in the water. Oyster shells are the preferred substrate for new oysters to attach to help rebuild reefs.

Annually, volunteers collect more than 75,000 pounds of oyster shells for restoration efforts.

The VCU Center for Community Engagement and Impact (CEI) coordinated an Oct. 8 volunteer opportunity for ten VCU employees in the Division of Student Affairs to help in the restoration efforts at the Rice Rivers Center. Various offices joined together to help bag waste shells.

Sixteen hours of Enhanced Community Service Leave is available to university and academic professionals so that they may volunteer with sponsored organizations or programs through VCU or VCU Health.

Joslyn DiRamio Bedell, special assistant to the senior vice provost in the VCU Division of Student Affairs, participated in the event and used her Enhanced Community Service Leave for the three-hour volunteer event.

“The event brought together colleagues from across campus and different departments, so I had the chance to see different people than I normally do, and it was fun!” Bedell said. “If anyone is feeling particularly alone or cut-off from the workplace connections and friendships we’ve all developed over the years, finding opportunities like this to get outside (COVID-safe) and volunteer with VCU people is a great break from the routine!”

Tito Luna, neighborhood outreach director, said the CEI regularly facilitates service opportunities for VCU faculty and staff.

“School systems and nonprofit organizations have adapted their volunteering to respond to the impacts of COVID-19,” Luna said. “CEI continues to promote socially-distanced opportunities and has particularly sought out virtual and do-it-yourself opportunities for VCU employees. CEI is here to help individuals and teams find volunteer activities that address areas that they are passionate about. I encourage employees to use their community service leave benefits.”

For more information about community service leave, visit Employee Service. To keep up-to-date on the latest volunteer news, subscribe to the 32 with VCU newsletter.

Photo credit: VCU