Saving the Oyster, and the Bay: Shell Recycling Program Replenishes Endangered Oyster Population


Image: fotologic via flickr

Recycling, it turns out, is not reserved for inanimate objects. An increasingly popular Chesapeake Bay program is sending oyster shells collected from restaurants, which save the shells from customers' meals, back into the bay, where they form homes for new oysters. Ok, so oyster shells are inanimate objects, but they provide spaces in which oysters, an important species in marine ecosystems, can create homes they need to survive. National Geographic explains, "without some sort of base, be it shells, stones, or reef balls, similar to what are used to help restore coral reefs, the adult oysters sink into the muddy river bottom and die." And restoring oyster populations is no small ecological achievement.

Like other seafood, oysters have been harvested to dangerously low levels, but unlike other seafood, oysters also serve as natural water filters—one oyster is said to filter four gallons of water per hour—as well as natural coastal buffers that help to protect shorelines.

So an alliance formed that began collecting shells from local restaurants and returning them to the bay. Now one year old, the Oyster Recovery Partnership Shell Recycling Alliance has at least 50 participating establishments in the Maryland-Virgina-DC area and has collected nearly two million oyster shells in that short time—enough to plant potentially more than 20 million oysters back into the bay in the next year.

Stephan Abel, Executive Director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, said, "In 2010, ORP and its partners processed, cleaned and transported over 60,000 bushels of shell that was in turn used to produce and plant more than 450 million baby oysters onto 316 acres back into the Bay."

This isn't an endorsement for patronizing all seafood restaurants, of course, or even other seafood served at restaurants participating in the oyster shell recycling program. It is an example, however, of one green business practice gone right.

More on oysters
Oysters are Restored to Waters in Need
85% of World's Oyster Reefs Already Gone, Many Functionally Extinct
New Project Restores Gulf Habitat, One Mile of Oysters At a Time

Tags: Conservation | Fish | Oceans | Recycling