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#06-46 February 20, 2006

DNR recycles oyster shells to benefit restoration program

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources Shell Recycling and Restoration Program is keeping up the pace this year, with 4,500 bushels of oyster shells already collected since the beginning of shellfish season.

The 2004-2005 shell-recycling season tallied 10,494 bushels collected statewide. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) employees gathered 470 bushels of the recyclable shells from Boone Hall Plantation’s 23 rd Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival Jan. 29, totaling 28,200 pounds in one day. The DNR believes that donations of all sizes greatly influence the program’s success.
           
For more information on the Oyster Recycling and Restoration Program, contact coordinator and DNR biologist Andy Jennings at jenningsa@dnr.sc.gov or (843) 953-9396 in Charleston.

In addition to the cache collected from the Boone Hall festival, the program works with the CharlestonOyster shell recycle Restaurant Association, Charleston Outdoor Catering, Tidewater Catering and Simmons Seafood, as well as other restaurants and individuals throughout South Carolina willing to donate oyster shells. The collection season spans the year, although shellfish harvesting in the state is usually open from the middle of May to early September, generating much needed shell for refurbishing existing oyster beds and recreational harvesting grounds during the summer months. 

 “Conservation is key to the success of our program,” Jennings said. “Donations are greatly appreciated and we are thankful for everyone who has participated by dropping off recyclable oyster shells. From two bushels to eighteen bushels, every shell helps. Our oyster beds are stronger and healthier now than they would have been without the restoration program.”

Currently, 16 drop-off sites are available in coastal areas from Murrells Inlet to Bluffton where people can recycle their oyster shells. Check out landing locations and detailed maps at http://saltwaterfishing.sc.gov/oyster.html for a nearby oyster shell recycling area.

What are the benefits of recycling oyster shells and replanting them along the intertidal shoreline? Oysters reproduce during the warm-weather months and release free-swimming larvae into the water. Larvae are carried by tidal currents and after two to three weeks, seek a surface to attach to so they can begin to build their shells of calcium carbonate. A century of oyster cultivation has shown that young oysters prefer to attach to already existing oyster shells. Other materials such as processed whelk shells have been successful in attracting and growing young oysters. 

Closing of oyster canneries and shucking houses over the last three decades coupled with the increasing popularity of backyard oyster roasts contribute to a shortage in oyster shells, resulting in a critical need for a greater conservative effort to recycle shells and rebuild oyster beds.

The DNR’s Shell Recycling and Restoration Program has accomplished a successful strategy of collecting shells from various locations statewide and replanting the oyster shells during the spawning season. “Our program was the first implemented in the Southeast,” Jennings said, “and many other states have followed the precedent we set. North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, among others, have begun oyster shell restoration programs modeled after ours.”

Funding to support the DNR’s Oyster Restoration and Recycling Program comes from the Saltwater Recreational Fishing License Program.

Bushels of recycled oyster shell collected in S.C. in previous years include: 2001-2002, 3,000 bushels; 2002-2003, 16,000 bushels; 2003-2004, 7,000 bushels; 2004-2005, 10,494 bushels; and 2005-2006, 4,500 bushels (partial season).

- Written by Anna Martin -                        

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