Have leftover oyster shells? Program seeks to replenish oyster populations

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has an oyster shell recycling program to help build new oyster reefs.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A local seafood favorite needs your help.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has an oyster shell recycling program to help build new oyster reefs.  The organization collects about $2,000 bushels of oyster shells every year.  Those are recycled and then used as homes for millions of new oysters.  But oyster populations are down because of things like over-harvesting and diseases, so the organization is hoping you will get involved.

Jackie Shannon knows oysters. “We’re in the Lynnhaven River right now.  These waters provide really great growing conditions for oysters,” Shannon said.

She also knows they need help.

“There is a shortage of oyster shells bay-wide,” Shannon said.  So, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is enlisting the help of people and restaurants across the commonwealth.

Shannon says step one is collecting the oysters in containers.  Step two is bringing them to a drop off site and step 3, they head up to Gloucester to become the new real estate for the baby oysters.

“We take these recycled shells and put them into large tanks full of seawater and oyster larvae,” Shannon said.  Then, they’re placed in oyster reefs across the bay.

The recycling project has a lot of benefits, like more oysters to eat.

Shannon said, “We try to take every single shell that we can from restaurants and oyster roasts and turn it into critical habitat out in the bay.”

It’s also key for the water and restoration projects.  “Each of these oysters on here is like a living water treatment plant,” Shannon said.

“It’s habitat that wouldn’t be there for them if this shell was just thrown away in the trash can,” Shannon said.  “So we literally, with the help of many volunteers and restaurants, turn trash into treasure and take this critical resource and put it back in the bay where it can do a lot of good.”

That’s why they’re hoping you will get involved and helping them fulfill their mission: no oyster left behind.