Monday, June 27, 2022

Brunswick County expands oyster shell recycling initiative

Oyster reefs help rebuild the coastline and nourish the ocean, and the local NC Coastal Federation has expanded its recycling locations in Brunswick County. (Port City Daily/File)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Oysters are not only for consumption, but their recycled shells serve a valuable purpose to the coastal ecosystem. As the largest coastal county in the state, Brunswick County now offers four new oyster shell recycling locations to make it easier to assist with reef-building in ocean sounds.

The North Carolina Coastal Federation is partnering with Brunswick County’s Solid Waste and Recycling Program to open oyster shell drop-offs beyond the Bolivia landfill and into four more convenient locations:

  • Sunset Beach, 736 Seas Rd.
  • Supply, 1709 Oxpen Rd.
  • Southport, 8392 River Rd.
  • Leland, 9921 Chappell Loop Rd.

An invaluable resource, it is illegal to dispose oyster shells in the trash. Coastal organizations, such as the federation and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, recycle the shells to build new oyster reefs and nourish living shorelines. If the organizations had to purchase them, it could cost up to $3 per bushel.

“[They] reduce wave energy, provide habitat for fish and crabs and serve as a hard surface for new oysters to attach to and grow,” federation spokesperson Stacia Strong said. “The new oysters help to further reduce the impacts of waves and improve water quality through the filtering abilities of oysters”

One oyster is capable of filtering up to 50 gallons of water a day. The federation’s recent 50 Million Oyster Initiative, funded by a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant and state appropriations, was able to successfully restore more than 140 million oysters, helping to filter almost 8 billion gallons of water daily and restoring water quality. 

From 2017 to 2020, the initiative resulted in the construction of 50 acres of oyster sanctuaries in the Outer Bank’s Pamlico Sound. The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries reported in 2020 it helped create a new reef of more than 2,000 oysters per meter squared.

“This translates to roughly 136 million oysters when the reef architecture is fully accounted for,” Strong explained. “This monitoring also showed these sanctuaries provide 40% of all the oysters in the Pamlico Sound, illustrating their importance to the entire ecosystem.”

Habitats created by oyster reefs benefit a variety of seafood. A 3.5-mile-long oyster reef can produce up to 6,900 pounds of crab and shrimp for harvest making them valuable to the state commercial fishing industry, which provides nearly $300 million in statewide economic impact.

From 2003 to 2018, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries operated a state-funded oyster shell recycling program and provided 6% to 15% of the shells needed for restoration projects, as stated in the release.

Once funding was cut, organizations including the federation stepped up to fill in the gap by applying for grants and working with local municipalities to establish new recycling and collection sites.

“It provides a way for people and businesses to recycle oyster shells, supporting a healthy coastal environment,” Stacia said.

In 2021, the federation collected more than 4,000 bushels of oysters (one bushel is the equivalent of roughly 8 dry gallons) through its ongoing recycling program, which will create 1 mile of living shoreline. There are now more than 20 locations throughout Brunswick, New Hanover, Onslow, Pender, Dare and Orange counties to recycle oyster shells.

Once oysters are collected from these sites, they are transferred to shell stockpiles and bagged in mesh bags before being placed parallel to eroding coastal shorelines.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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