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Saving Shells, Saving the Bay

DSC_0059People really love oysters – witness this dumpster full of shells left from folks slurping down oysters at several Richmond-area restaurants and community oyster roasts over the past few months.

But oysters really love oysters, too. In fact, baby oysters floating in the water like nothing better than to settle upon and attach to another oyster shell to grow and mature.

So collecting shells and putting them back into creeks, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay to give oysters the shell habitat they need is one of the prime strategies for restoring oysters to the Bay. In case you hadn’t heard, the Bay’s oyster population is but a fraction of what it once was -- and what it could be again – if all of the public, private, and nonprofit efforts under way to restore oysters succeed.

One such effort was today, when volunteers from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and several partner organizations shoveled some six tons of oyster shells from this Richmond dumpster into more than 150 bushel baskets for transport to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) Virginia Oyster Restoration Center at Gloucester Point, Va.

There CBF will wash and bag the shells and “set” them with millions of baby oysters for rebuilding protected oyster reefs and “living shorelines” in the Lafayette and Elizabeth rivers in Norfolk. The goal is to jumpstart the wild oyster population in these rivers, not only to eventually boost commercial harvests but to help filter the water. An adult oyster can filter and clear about 50 gallons of water a day!

Leading today’s shell recycling event was VCU Rice Rivers Center’s Todd Janeski, seen here (center, wearing black ski cap) thanking partner organizations DSC_0076 before the hard work of shoveling got started. Partners in the effort include the Rice Rivers Center, the City of Richmond, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, Virginia Green, Tidewater Fiber Corp., Virginia Master Naturalists, Rappahannock River Oyster Co., CBF, and four Richmond-area restaurants – Acacia Mid-Town, Lemaire, Pearl Raw Bar, and Rappahannock.

No telling how long it took for folks to down each of the oysters that produced the shells in this dumpster, but it took volunteers a couple of hours to empty the bin and fill a CBF rental truck with baskets of shells. And while morning temperatures in Richmond hovered in the 20s, volunteers soon ditched coats and worked up a sweat to get the job done.

DSC_0085Janeski hopes today’s cache of shells will be the first of many, many more to come. He wants to expand the partnership to include more restaurants, oyster roasts, and food festivals.

CBF oyster restoration expert Jackie Shannon hopes that happens, too. More oyster shells mean more oyster reefs and more oysters in the Bay. And that’s good for the Bay, oysters, and the people who love them.

For more information about the shell recycling project, contact Janeski at tvjaneski@vcu.edu, Shannon at jshannon@cbf.org, or click here. To read more about today's event, click here and here.

Chuck Epes

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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