- Associated Press - Saturday, August 26, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An environmental group that turned oyster shells from New Orleans-area restaurants into an oyster reef has received $250,000 to build its second reef.

The Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana says the new one will be off Jefferson Parish, along the western edge of Barataria Bay. It will be about a half-mile (0.8-kilometer) long, like the reef that was completed in November off St. Bernard Parish, and about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southwest of it.

“We have collected a mountain of oyster shell from New Orleans restaurants. With this support, CRCL will use the recycled shell - shell that would have ended up in landfills - to build another reef,” CRCL executive director Kimberly Reyher said in a news release. “This is important because oyster reefs act as speed bumps for storms - they provide an important line of defense for our city.”

The first reef has shown a good step toward that protection: CRCL’s science director, Giovana McClenachan, found tiny oyster larvae called spat anchored to it on a recent monitoring trip, coalition spokesman Jimmy Faircloth wrote in an email Friday.

He said it was an exciting sign: “We didn’t expect to find that quite this early.”

As more spat grab on, the reef will gradually grow up and out, providing homes for other types of marine life and slowing the waves that chew continually at Louisiana’s coast. Oysters also filter up to 25 gallons (95 liters) of water a day, improving water quality.

The reef is made up of shells that are collected from restaurants, left in the sun for at least six months to get rid of any remaining bits of oyster, and bagged. The bags are then placed into steel mesh boxes called gabion baskets. Each basket holds 2 tons (1814 kilograms) of shells.

The baskets are set end-to-end about 20 feet (6 meters) from shore, with gaps to match inlets in the marsh.

Faircloth says 13 restaurants are paying $100 a month for each 32-gallon (121 liter) oyster shell bin. That’s half the number of restaurants that participated when all costs were covered by a $1 million grant from Shell Oil Co., but three more than participated immediately after the initial three-year grant ran out early this year. Faircloth said others are interested.

The new grant is from Shell and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

The reef will be built in late 2019. First, Faircloth said in the email, it must be designed for the area where it will be located. Officials need to get permits, contracts must be signed, and volunteers will have to bag about 800 tons (725,747 kilograms) of oyster shells.

“Lots to do before building a new reef,” he wrote.

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