Oyster, Oyster Bagging, Indian River Lagoon, IRL, Restoration

How Harris engineers got involved in building a machine to help save the Indian River Lagoon

By Matt Grimison
Jan 23, 2017

Over a four-month period, six Harris employees volunteered their time and expertise to design a machine that automates bagging oyster shells for the Brevard Zoo. The bags are used by zoo oyster restoration project volunteers as the foundation for new reefs in the Indian River Lagoon. Oysters are excellent for lagoon water quality because they filter and remove harmful nutrients from the water and help counter algae blooms and fish kills of recent years.

The Harris employee team consisted of Kari Andresen, Scott Cerasale, Chance Eldredge, Julio Perez, Jake Sherlock and project lead Ihosvany Garcia. We connected with Garcia to learn more about how this unique and innovative project came about.

Q: How did you get involved in this project?

A: An email calling for volunteers to assist on a local restoration project was sent out throughout my department in August 2016 and I became immediately interested. An opportunity to lead the project was presented to me and I was thrilled to be able to take it.

Q: What were the biggest challenges?

A: The biggest challenge was nailing down an effective design – a balancing act between productivity, efficiency, feasibility and simplicity of the finished product, as with any engineering endeavor. The zoo was eager to have the machine ready by the New Year, so the timeline also posed a challenge.. Being such a unique machine, imagination really came into play as we anticipated potential issues.

Q: What was the breakthrough moment(s)?

A: We had a few breakthrough moments during the project. The team realized from the start that we would not have enough time to create a conveyor system of our own, so we searched for a ready-made conveyor. The variety of options and configurations was vast, but when we came across the niche market of firewood conveyors, it was a eureka moment. They had several very key advantages over all the others we had been considering:

  • Firewood is heavy, so these conveyors are made with materials that withstand lots of punishment and are suitable for outdoor use.
  • The firewood conveyors are hydraulically driven, with an integrated engine and pump. This is advantageous over an electric system that would require a separate generator, amongst other things.
  • We originally anticipated needing a separate trailer for transport of the shell bagging machine. The firewood conveyor sits on its own highway rated wheels, enabling easy transportation.

Another high point for me was conducting the first few test using actual oyster shells, which quickly proved or disproved aspects of our original design ideas. 

Q: What about the Indian River Lagoon project did you feel was most rewarding?

A: The big picture of being able to support a local ecological restoration project was the definitive driver for us. It is supremely rewarding to be able to use your own set of tools to repair something that is as essential as the IRL. We were thrilled to be using our resources and backgrounds to affect change we believed in on a personal level.

Q: Has volunteering through Harris impacted your work life?

A: Each member of our entire volunteer team has an impressive resume and promising career ahead of them. Working with the team has created new friendships and served as an invaluable networking experience. I have been inspired by having such a role between my daily work with Harris and volunteering with the Brevard Zoo, which is responsible for many great things in our community. I’m looking forward to continuing the relationship between Harris and The Brevard Zoo.