Oyster shells are not trash, they're saving our shorelines

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18:  (Photo by Mireya Acierto/Getty Images for NYCWFF)
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When it comes to oysters – there are two types of people – those who love them and those who can’t stand the taste, right? You know who you are!

Whether you enjoy eating these briny treats from the sea or not, truth is they’re a vital part of our ecosystem.

“Oysters have been a part of our coastline since humans first arrived,” said University of North Florida Estuarine Ecologist Dr. Kelly Smith.

They’re important and they’re not just here to appease our appetites.

“They’re a habitat too and they can reduce shoreline loss,” Smith added.

Oysters serve as homes for baby fish and larvae. They also protect the shore from waves, helping to keep the sand in its place. 

Just like we want oysters healthy enough to eat, researchers study their well-being to conserve our coastlines.

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“This is a huge effort done by a number of agencies,” commented Smith.

People across the state are working with UNF ecologists to see how they can use oyster shells to restore battered coastlines.

“The shell itself can last about 8,000 years,” said East Coast Aquatic Preserves Assistant Regional Administrator Andrea Noel. “So, if we’re throwing tons of oyster shells into our landfalls, we’re filling up our landfills with something that isn’t going to degrade.”

Might as well put them back to work, right? When these shells return to the shoreline, after many months of baking in the sun to kill off bacteria or other non-native organisms, they’re bunched together to do what they do best.

“They form these aggregations that can help reduce the damage of shoreline as long as there’s not too much action in that region,” Smith added. “The shells, again, also act as the home for baby fish, which is very important, too.”

South Carolina has an oyster restoration and enhancement program, called SCORE. It’s a community based program to re-use oyster shells to build back shoreline.

While there aren’t state-wide programs here in Florida or Georgia, we do have smaller, locally based oyster restoration groups. Researchers here would eventually like to expand the idea to keep the shells out of our landfills.

You can find information about the shellfish harvesting areas in St. Johns County here.

Site map of shellfish harvesting areas here.

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Here is a link to Oyster Jam. Every year they collect nearly 18,000 pounds of oyster shells from Oyster Jam, according to Andrea Noel. The shells will be delivered to the Guana Tolomato Matanzas Research Reserve's quarantine site on Monday May 22 where they will sit for almost a year, they will be used to create and enhance oyster habitat in our local estuaries.