Besides the commercial importance of oysters, there are other benefits of creating a recycling program to encourage healthy oyster populations:
Oysters benefit the environment in several important ways:
- Filtering Water & improving water quality (an adult oyster can filter over 2 gallons of water per minute.)
- Providing Habitat, food and shelter for a multitude of sea dwellers, benefitting birds and mammals also.
- Controlling Erosion & protecting shoreline as natural breakwaters.
The harvesting of adult oysters removes shell from the life cycle and has a great impact on reproduction. Replacing oyster shell is a vital way to help restore the natural cycle.
Oyster eggs are created by the millions and when they have developed into larvae (young, free-swimming oysters) they must settle on hard substrates (surfaces to which a fixed organism will attach.) If these young oysters do not find a suitable substrate, they die. Oyster shell is the ideal surface for thriving development and is greatly preferred by the young oysters.
Oyster Reef Restoration Project has initiated a shell recycling program in Lee and Collier Counties to collect shell and return it to the ecosystem. Used clam and oyster shell will be collected periodically from various restaurants and shellfish farmers. Future plans may include a recycling drop off area for citizens who wish to contribute. Shells will be cleaned of meat and dried before being put back into the areas that attract oyster spat (juvenile oysters.)
In the past, huge amounts of oyster reefs were removed from the Caloosahatchee estuary and other SW Florida estuaries for use in construction, resulting in decreased substrate for oyster spat to settle and grow. A shell recycling program will enable us to enhance suitable substrate for oyster spat, increasing reef development which then provides habitat, food and shelter for numerous fishery species. Additionally, the principal investigator (project supervisor) routinely works with shellfish growers on various projects related to oyster and clam culture, disease dynamics and water quality.
Several states including South Carolina have a statewide oyster shell recycling program, and groups of volunteers have started their own shell Recycling programs.