- Associated Press - Monday, November 23, 2015

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) - Taking a page from the recycling industry, collection sites in Newport News, Hampton and Williamsburg are taking in empty oyster shells to help rebuild oyster habitat in the Chesapeake Bay.

The oyster shell collection bins are for use by restaurateurs and residents alike.

The bay’s oyster population has declined for decades because of pollution and disease, among other reasons. To bring back a signature bay catch, public and private efforts have accelerated in recent years to recreate the reefs oysters need to thrive.

The huge amount of shells needed to build oyster reefs has often been in short supply, and large-scale efforts have mined ancient shells from the bay’s tributaries for reuse.

The Daily Press (https://bit.ly/1NlMCSn ) reports that the collection system is an effort by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its partners.

One of the collection bins is located outside The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News.

“When they approached us about putting one out here on our property, I jumped at that opportunity,” said Erica Deale of the museum’s education department.

“It’s a great tool for the public to learn about what’s going on in their own environment,” Deale added. “And also a great tool for us to be involved more on the environmental side of education.”

The Bay Foundation partnered on the bins in Hampton and Newport News with the Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program, a collaborative effort with Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice Center.

CBF cleans and cures donated shells. It then places them in big water tanks filled with larvae that attach and grow into baby oysters, called spat. One shell can be home to dozens of spat.

Those spat-on-shell are then given to oyster gardeners or placed directly in rivers and the bay.

Oyster larvae spawned in the water column must land and attach, or set, on hard substrate such as old shell to grow. Dumping shells back onto reefs in the bay and its tributaries helps boost their survival.

Todd Janeski of the VCU recycling program said local restaurants are being recruited to donate oyster shells. Volunteers are also being sought to collect them.

Otherwise, mounds of oyster shells are simply going into local landfills, he said.

The recycling program already is working with 30 restaurants in Richmond and another eight in Charlottesville.

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