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Don’t toss that shell. Recycle it!

Programs-oyster-restoration-save-shell-logoWe’re smack in the middle of oyster season in Chesapeake Bay country, and millions of the delicious bivalves are getting shucked, slurped, roasted, fried, stewed, and eaten.

But what happens to the empty shells diners leave behind? Historically, most oyster shells were thrown away, buried in abandoned wells and landfills, or crushed and used as road bed or other construction filler.

Today, we know better. Rather than tossing those shells into the trash, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and other oyster restoration advocates are tossing them back into the Bay to help rebuild oyster reefs and repopulate the Bay with baby oysters.

Oysters in the wild produce babies that need other oyster shells upon which to settle and grow. Yes, oysters will grow upon other hard surfaces – rocks, jetties, piers, and the like – but their preferred home is on and among other oysters. By systematically harvesting millions and millions of oysters from the Bay over the centuries and not returning the shells to the water, man has managed to strip-mine the Bay of its oysters and their once massive reef structures, the very habitat oysters need to thrive.

Factor in pollution and disease, and it’s no wonder oysters today have dwindled to only a fraction of DSC_0274 their historic numbers. Great efforts are being made by public and private interests to restore the Bay’s oyster population, and in recent years, Bay oysters seem to be showing signs of some recovery. Harvests are up, especially of oysters grown using aquaculture.

Even so, dramatically fewer oysters are harvested from the Bay today than 50 or 100 years ago. And fewer oysters harvested means fewer oyster shells available for putting back into the Bay to rebuild reefs and replenish oyster grounds.

That’s why CBF encourages saving empty oyster shells (and clam and mussel shells) for recycling back into the Bay.

“The shells are incredibly valuable,” says Jackie Shannon (in above photo), CBF Virginia oyster restoration specialist and manager of CBF’s shell recycling program in Virginia. “Oyster shells have become a very scarce resource, and very expensive. So instead of the shells winding up in a landfill somewhere, CBF collects them to reuse for building reefs and repopulating the Bay.”

DSC_0003In Virginia, Shannon networks with a variety of seafood restaurants, local oyster roasts, groups, and private individuals to donate their empty shells to CBF for its oyster restoration programs. One such partner is Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Rice Rivers Center in Charles City County. In only four months, the Center has collected more than 150 bushels of shells from Richmond area restaurants. CBF will soon transport the shells to its Virginia Oyster Restoration Center at Gloucester Point. The project was coordinated by Todd Janeski with VCU’s Center for Environmental Studies and the Rice Rivers Center. 

DSC_0005Shannon also has established several public dropoff sites where citizens can take their oysters shells to donate to CBF. The CBF dropoff sites are in Norfolk, Williamsburg, and Yorktown. For precise locations or more information about shell recycling in Virginia, click here or contact Shannon at jshannon@cbf.org.

Lynnhaven River Now, a Virginia Beach watershed group, also recycles shells in Hampton Roads. For more information, click here.

CBF also has an extensive oyster shell recycling program in Maryland. Drop-off sites are in Annapolis, Chesapeake Beach, Edgewater, Severna Park, and Shady Side. For more details, click here or contact Meghan Hoffman at mhoffman@cbf.org.

CBF also partners with the Oyster Recovery Partnership in Maryland, which has an extensive and growing shell recycling and drop-off program. For more about that, click here.

So continue to enjoy eating oysters -- but save those shells!

Chuck Epes

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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