- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — Six mornings a week, two teenagers pick up clam and oyster shells from eight seafood restaurants that set them aside, as well as from two public drop-off centers.

The teens, who work for the Lynnhaven River 2007 environmental group, clean any leftover meat and slime from the shells at a car wash.

Then they sweep their haul from the back of a pickup truck into a bigger pile at the city landfill, where the shells dry and disinfect in the sun.

By next spring, organizers hope to dump 1,500 bushels of shells into the Lynnhaven River as part of a recycling program that aims to use the shells to build artificial reefs.

The project, called Save Oyster Shell, began this summer in Virginia Beach, with help from a grant from the state’s Chesapeake Bay license-plate fund.

The program is intended to help state efforts to revive oyster stocks in the Chesapeake Bay, decimated in recent decades by disease, lost habitat, fishing pressures and water pollution.

Virginia used to buy oyster shells from Maryland, but Maryland has stopped exporting them so it would have enough material for its own reef projects.

More recently, Virginia has been dredging ancient shells from the muck of the James River, an expensive and depleting process.

So state environmentalists and officials borrowed an idea from successes in South Carolina: Encourage seafood lovers to recycle their clam and oyster shells instead of tossing them in the garbage.

As part of the program, participating restaurants distribute menus with information about oyster restoration and have servers explain the project to those buying clams and oysters.

Matt Rankin, an owner of CP Shuckers, said his customers love the idea of helping the environment while eating fresh shellfish.

“A lot of people want to do the right thing, but they just need to be poked a little bit,” Mr. Rankin said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a nonprofit environmental group, hopes to start similar recycling projects in Norfolk and Williamsburg this fall.

Christy Everett, the foundation’s director in Hampton Roads, said she wants to use collected shells to build smaller reefs near eroding shorelines that will complement newly planted marsh grasses and wetlands.

These are called “living shoreline” projects. The foundation is looking for high-erosion sites for such work to be conducted next year along the Elizabeth and James rivers.

The Virginia Beach recycling project is set to run out of money at the end of this month.

However, City Hall may take over the project and make it year-round, said Clay Bernick, the city’s environmental policy manager. A decision is expected later this summer, he said.

On a recent day, Andy Forget, 18, spent three hours making the rounds in Virginia Beach and power-washing the shells. His T-shirt was flecked with oyster tissue and his red gloves smelled like rotting fish.

“My last job was cleaning toilets on the Spirit of Norfolk” cruise ship, he said, “so this is definitely a step up.”

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