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FGCU students upcycle broken hockey sticks to create oyster reefs

By Staff | Jul 23, 2020

An oyster reef made of old hockey sticks being installed at homes Wednesday in Cape Coral. CHUCK?BALLARO

When a hockey player breaks a stick, it used to go to the local landfill.

Not anymore. At Florida Gulf Coast University, those broken sticks, as well as donated shafts from others, as going for a good cause that will make the waters of Southwest Florida much cleaner.

It is called the “Rinks to Reefs” program, where the broken sticks from the FGCU hockey team are used to make oyster reefs to be placed in the water, attached to docks, at local residences, where the oysters can grow and help clean the canal water.

“Three years ago, the Vester Marine Field Station worked on an environmental project and used hockey sticks to build reefs,” said Helen Noble, community outreach specialist at Vester who helped start the program. “The sticks are inert, so they last forever and the oysters glom onto them.”

Oysters are critical in the cleansing of water. One fully grown oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. With one reef able to hold up to 400 mature oysters, that 20,000 gallons, or one full-sized pool, every day.

With the students installing 20 reefs Wednesday alone, it’s a significant number.

Several homes on Southeast 36th Street and Southeast 19th Place paid a $175 donation to have these reefs installed by FGCU students involved in the marine program.

Maurine Martin said she remembered the blue-green algae in her canal two years ago, which caused health issues to many.

“I looked at a lot of reefs and came across the one at FGCU. The sticks are non-toxic and the money goes toward scholarships and they return every 30 to 60 days to check the water quality, which goes into a database,” Martin said.

Martin got others in her neighborhood interested, which resulted in 19 other reefs being installed.

Bob Wasno, former FGCU hockey coach, got in the water with his power tools to install the reefs. He said they had to do something with all the broken sticks.

“They were breaking constantly and when we looked at what we can do with them, we found they weren’t recyclable. They are made of a carbon composite material,” Wasno said. “It’s a simple design, like Lincoln logs. We’re taken something that had no repurpose value and built these.”

FGCU got more than 2,000 hockey stick shafts from hockey stick manufacturer Bauer, as well as CCM. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Red Wings and other hockey organizations have also helped this cause nationwide.

Elijah Burns, Blair Foundation recipient, which is an internship for people involved in environmental studies, was working his first day, and was there to learn how to install these on his own.

“I’m so excited to learn about this. It’s really important for our local residents. We can use this as an education point,” Burns said. “We can teach people the importance of filtration and of water and how this helps the ecosystem.”