Oyster Shells: Recycle, Reuse and Replenish

After polishing off a plate of oysters or cleaning up from an oyster roast, what do you do with your shells? At Amen Street, we used a few for chandeliers, then we thought big picture. Turns out, empty oyster shells should find their way to a recycle bin, not the trash can.

In the Charleston seafood community, oyster shells are a hot commodity. Ahead of the curve in the sustainable seafood movement, many chefs and restaurants work with the SC Department of Natural Resources to recycle shells and help replenish the oyster population.

Many east coast oyster bays are quickly becoming devastated and loosing entire populations of oysters. Sadly, oyster issues are caused by us: boating, polluting, overfishing. The good news is, it’s definitely not too late to turn it all around. Even places like Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay , where less than 1% of their original oyster supply remains, are building themselves back up.

Decreasing populations not only affects oyster-eating, it creates a huge problem for the underwater ecosystem. Oysters are “filter feeders”. They’re not just sitting back and relaxing, they feed an algae and keep the water clean. Smaller oyster populations and excess algae are causing some communities to build intricate sewage systems. The easy, natural, inexpensive answer is: build up the oyster population.

Thanks to a proactive recycling initiative in the lowcountry, our oyster supply is still abundant. When our shells are recycled, they are planted in a tidal area or creek in need of a replenishment or cleaning. In many places, there are many of  homeless oysters: larvae without shells. Recycling initiatives give the homeless oysters a place to settle and grow. Oyster shells also trap sediment and keep waves from eroding the banks, two very important parts of the initiative SCORE : South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement.

We in Charleston are absolutely in a good place – but with Christmas and New Years oyster roasts looming, grab the shells and take them to the nearest recycling station around South Carolina. It’s a great excuse  to eat more!

The oyster-recycling movement is huge in many communities around the country. Sustainable Seafood power players from OceanFriendlyChefs.org share more interesting information on their conservation efforts. Check it out and get involved.

Merry Christmas and Merry Shucking.

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