- Associated Press - Saturday, February 14, 2015

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - Recycling was a buzz word at the recent Lowcountry Oyster Festival at Boone Hall Plantation.

The empty shells from the more than 800 bushels of oysters that were consumed eventually will be heading back into the waters of South Carolina to create and preserve our coastal habitat, part of the S.C. Department of Natural Resources’ SCORE (S.C. Oyster and Restoration Enhancement) program.

Gary Keisler, who coordinates the Coastal Conservation Association of South Carolina Topwater Action program, said there were 143 CCA volunteers this year and they collected approximately 55,000 pounds of oyster shells.

“When we started back in 2010, we had 10 volunteers. It’s amazing how we have seen this grow over the last five years. Now, we get almost no trash. When we started five years ago we spent half of our time taking trash out of the shells,” Keisler said.

He added that Ben Dyar of DNR said the team recovered 99 percent of the shells at the festival. He said just a couple of years ago there would be 10,000 pounds of shells on the ground.

So why is oyster shell recycling so important?

Oysters are filter feeders and can process more than 50 gallons of water in 24 hours. Live oysters serve as reefs, attracting small fish and crabs which in turn larger fish. Oysters also help protect against erosion. When oysters spawn, the larvae are released into the water column. They need a hard surface to survive and grow; if they land in the mud they will die.

Knowing the importance of oyster reefs, CCA South Carolina began teaming with DNR to promote the RESTORE program. CCA members volunteered, and the organization has helped purchase a dump truck and three oyster barges so shells can be transported to appropriate sites.

The state has numerous recycling sites, and recently has added two in the Columbia area and one in Florence, said CCA South Carolina executive director Scott Whitaker. He said DNR had to make a return trip to the Florence site recently because the truck wasn’t large enough to handle all the recycle shells.

“Where the shell originates doesn’t have any bearing on the ability to make good reef material,” Whitaker said. “We don’t turn around and put them right back in the water; we put them out and let them bake in the sun for five to six months to kill all the bacteria. Then we take the time to put them in bags in a usable format.”

He said a decision can be made where the shells will work best and 300 to 500 bags can be pinned in place to get the desired result and within two years’ time oysters will be growing on the spat and a viable reef is in place. Whitaker said CCA South Carolina and DNR have teamed for more than 40 projects since 2010.

More than 225 oyster reefs have been constructed at 69 sites all along the South Carolina coastline as part of the SCORE program since May 2001. All of the reefs were constructed by community volunteers working under DNR’s direction.

He said a reef near Daniel Island is a prime example of what these reefs can do.

“You see little baitfish and crabs,” Keisler said. “Erosion has slowed down. It’s such a good feeling to see that.”

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Information from: The Post and Courier, https://www.postandcourier.com

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