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#06-175 July 3, 2006

DNR replanting oyster reefs

Refurbishing oyster reefs with recycled oyster shells is an important step towards sustaining the vitality of South Carolina’s state and public shellfish grounds.

Currently, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) biologists are doing just that and are usingOyster shells recycled oyster shells to enhance reef sites at public and state shellfish grounds. Recycled shells donated and dropped off at sixteen coastal area collection sites earlier this year have been cleaned and are now being used for enhancing coastal shellfish grounds. During the 2005-2006 collection year, DNR’s Oyster Recycling and Restoration project collected a total of 8,607 bushels from coastal recycling bins.

For additional information about the DNR’s Recycling and Restoration Program, and to check recycling drop-off locations in your area, visit http://saltwaterfishing.sc.gov/oyster.html, and contact Andy Jennings, at jenningsa@dnr.sc.gov or Jason Comer, at comerj@dnr.sc.gov.  For information on the SCORE Program, visit http://score.dnr.sc.gov/.

The DNR’s replenishment of public and state shellfish grounds stem from many factors. Replanting suitable shells at this time of year provides a substrate for oyster spat to attach during warmer water seasons. Oysters reproduce during the late spring, summer, and fall months, and larvae, when produced, favor calcium carbonate structures in order to attach and survive. Providing shells promotes, enhances and restores local reef vitality and can also lead to successful harvests for recreational and commercial shellfish collection in two to three years.  The planting season typically spans until late August, when oyster spat are less abundant as the waters cool.

Jennings notes that, “Although we replant all of the shells that are recycled locally each year, it is not enough to replenish public and state shellfish grounds.” In addition to the local shells recycled and collected, the DNR relies heavily on shells that are purchased from Gulf Coast vendors. More than 29,000 bushels were purchased from the Gulf area in preparation for enhancing public harvesting areas this year. Only after the Gulf Coast shells have been cleaned and quarantined, are they then able to be used to enhance coastal shellfish grounds.  Because non-native shells may carry exotic species, the quarantine process ensures that precautions are taken to prevent pathogens from entering local waters.

Jennings commented that “By encouraging greater participation within the community, to recycle used oysters at collection drop-off sites, the DNR could rely less on having to purchase and quarantine shells from vendors outside of South Carolina.” Economic factors such as rising fuel prices, hurricane damage in the Gulf of Mexico region last year, created more difficulty in attaining oyster shells from these areas.  Jennings said, “We want the public to know that when they drop off oyster shells, every donation is cycled back into the estuarine environment. Every shell helps to restore shellfish grounds in coastal South Carolina.”
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