Anyone who’s visited the Gulf Coast region of the US will know the region prides itself on its seafood cuisine, in particular its shellfish. In fact, the area accounts for over 60% of all oysters eaten in the US.
That’s an awful lot of oysters; 500 million pounds are produced each year in fact. And that creates an awful lot of unwanted oyster shells.
At the moment, all those shells are simply discarded and sent to landfill. But in an innovative new scheme, the shells are being recycled and returned to the sea where they provide an attractive environment for new oysters. Each oyster shell returned provides a home for up to ten baby oysters.
This being America, the scale of this project is pretty big. Since it started, the programme has collected over 2.8 million oyster shells–enough to cover 7.2 acres in the Gulf.
Starting with just a few restaurants, the programme has scaled up to cover twenty nine eateries, all of whom leave their discarded shells out for collection by a waste management company. The shells are then taken to a nature reserve where they can aerate and “cure” for several months before being returned to the ocean.
Just to show our readers that we pay attention in class, the humble oyster is a pretty impressive thing. For instance, an adult oyster can filter up to fifteen gallons of water a day, and in doing so filter out sediment and algae from the water. By sucking up excess algae and nitrogen, oysters clear the water and enable more seagrass to grow, which in turn leads to healthier fish and crab populations.
The Gulf Coast scheme is the biggest of these oyster recycling programmes but not the first. Other are already in operation in New Orleans, Galveston and New York. Could it happen here? Probably not on such a large scale but some of our favourite fish restaurant chains might want to take note.