Oyster roasts are a common sight seen around the Charleston area during the winter months, and now state officials are urging you to recycle those shells after the roasts.
While most of the oyster canneries are closed during this time, the Department of Natural Resources is facing a shortage of shucked oyster shells needed to cultivate and restore oyster beds.
Ben Dyar, coordinator of the Oyster Shell Recycling & Replanting Program with SCDNR, said the shells are crucial to the environment.
“Besides being sustainable, they’re also filter feeders, so they filter water,” Dyar said. “One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. They also create erosion barriers to help curb erosion from eroding those barriers, and they create habitat for almost 120 species of animals that live in and around these oysters.”
The Department of Natural Resources collects oyster shells from 27 restaurants in the Tri-County, 37 statewide, through the recycling program.
They pick up those shells every Tuesday and Friday in an effort to rejuvenate the oyster beds locally.
“Enhancing that sustainability is so important to the communities we work and live in,” said Gilligan’s Seafood Restaurant Manager Tasha Eady.
“On an annual basis we plant about 40,000 bushels a year back into our local waters,” Dyar said. “This helps manage our oyster populations. We’re only recycling about 30,000 bushels a year though.”
Dyar said the shortage in recycling, even though 30,000 bushels is a lot, has become a problem leading DNR to resort to purchasing shells from out of state.
More often than not, the shell ends up in driveways and landfills in the area.
What officials would like to see happen is a collaborative effort between the restaurant industry and locals in the community.
“100% of the shells that we get we do put back in the water,” Dyar said. “We will use them in the best possible, most efficient way. We have science behind this to know where we put the shells out is really going to work and help grow new oysters.”
For those folks who decide to host their own backyard oyster roast, there’s a way to get involved with recycling. The DNR website has a list of locations statewide you can drop off your shells.
“We have trailers at all of our locations and it’s part of our commitment to 100% local,” Eady said.
At Gilligan’s Seafood Restaurant locations employees make sure to let their customers know about oyster shell recycling with green buckets.
They also have a separate bucket in the kitchen to make sure everything gets separated properly.
“Then we take them out to the trailer at the end of the night,” Eady said. “We’ve recycled over 500,000 pounds of oyster shells with DNR.”
When DNR collects the shells throughout the week, they then drop them off at quarantine sites locally.
“We put them out on dry land and let mother nature do her thing,” Dyar said. “With the UV rays and the animals, they actually degrade the meat on the shells to the point where we can put them back out. What that does it get rid of any evasive species or oyster diseases we may put back into our local waters.”
The shells are typically quarantined for 6 to 12 months before returning to the water.
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