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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Shell Recycling Provides a New Home for Oysters

By: Andrea Moran

These oyster bags contain oyster shells loaded with spat and ready for planting on a restoration reef. CBF's spat on shell restoration method requires tons of recycled oyster shells each year. Photo by John Bildahl

CBF volunteer Walter Zadan delivers another load of oyster shells to the recycling curing site in Williamsburg, Va. Photo by Andrea Moran/CBF Staff

A re-energized Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) shell recycling program is not only keeping thousands of oyster shells out of Hampton Roads landfills, it's also providing future habitat for new oysters. "Save Oyster Shells," commonly referred to as "SOS," is the ultimate "win-win" recycling effort, says CBF Oyster Specialist Jackie Harmon who is coordinating the effort.

Although it's only been under way for about a month on the Virginia Peninsula, the program is gaining momentum as restaurants, volunteers, and community oyster roast organizers get on board. So far, Williamsburg's Berret's Seafood and LaYaca restaurants and Yorktown's waterfront Riverwalk Café are saving oyster shell for later use in CBF's spat on shell restoration projects.

How it works

SOS is simple. CBF provides containers to restaurants, which collect used oyster and clam shells from finished meals. The containers are picked up by CBF volunteers such as Walter Zadan of Williamsburg. Zadan picks up the shell from LaYaca and Berret's and takes them to a curing site provided by Colonial Williamsburg. Zadan says he enjoys doing this and feels good about helping the oyster restoration efforts. And, although it's an extra step for restaurant staff, Harmon says they know it's helping restore the oysters that people love to eat, so it's well worth the effort.

Althea Moore and other students from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) pick up shells from the Riverwalk Café and take them to another CBF curing site at VIMS' Gloucester Point Hatchery. Curing shells allows bacteria and organic matter to decompose before the shells are washed and reintroduced to the water. Each and every saved shell can provide a home for baby oysters, which prefer shells to settle upon.

Loss of shell reefs has made it difficult for oysters to find a foothold and grow, which is why shell recycling for restoration is so important.

After curing and washing, the shells are submerged in wire cages in big tanks at VIMS. Next, baby oyster larvae are released into the tanks and attach themselves to the shells. Several baby oysters will attach to each shell and grow into a cluster, enabling the oysters, now called spat, to be better protected from predators and disease. Later, CBF places the shell clusters on sanctuary oyster reefs throughout Hampton Roads waterways, giving oyster restoration efforts a big boost. In 2008, approximately 10 million oysters were added to local Virginia rivers by using the spat-on-shell method.

From oyster roast to the Bay

Other states have enjoyed great success with shell recycling programs. CBF was one of the local pioneers of shell recycling when the Hampton Roads pilot project began in 2005. SOS is an expansion of that project. Other groups such as Norfolk Environmental Commission and Lynnhaven River NOW also recycle shells. Still, the vast majority of oyster shells end up in landfills.

"We want this resource coming back to us so it can help save the Bay through oyster restoration," Harmon said. "I'm excited about this program because it incorporates green practices in restaurants and provides more shells for restoration. This is good for the Bay and the oyster consumer, so everyone is a winner."

Harmon plans to double the number of participating restaurants in 2009, and collect thousands more shell from community oyster roasts. In order to reach CBF's restoration goals for the next couple of years, she says CBF needs much more shell and many more volunteers to collect them.

If you know of upcoming oyster roasts in 2009, or if you want to become a Save Oyster Shells volunteer, please contact Jackie at or call 757/622-1964.

Find out more about other CBF Virginia oyster restoration efforts and how you can participate.


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1 comment:

Chesapeake Bay Foundation said...

Thanks for picking up our story! The thing I love most about seeing stories picked up by other blogs is learning what other blogs are out there! Glad to have found you.


Kim Ethridge
Chesapeake Bay Foundation