Making Use of Mollusks

Aug. 9, 2016

Raw, deep fried, served in a stew, or baked up as Oysters Rockefeller—in one form or another, Americans consume about 10 million pounds of oysters a year. But it turns out they’re good for something more than just eating. In South Carolina, a project is underway to add hundreds of bags of recycled oyster shells to an existing offshore reef to control erosion and improve water quality.

The project is a joint effort of the Coastal Conservation Association and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Volunteers collect the shells from various recycling points and bag them during the winter, then they’re placed at strategic points along the coast during the summer. Oyster larvae seek hard surfaces to cling to and latch onto the shells, which also provide habitat for other aquatic life. The reef structures themselves both lessen the impact of waves caused by boat traffic and protect marsh grasses growing on their landward side, preventing erosion in the long term.

Efforts such as this are not exactly new. Other projects have used re-created reefs to slow erosion, promote the growth of vegetation along the shoreline, and improve habitat. “The reefs, in conjunction with the shoreline, act as a natural wave break. Even though the reef is subsurface, it trips the wave energy enough before it impacts the shore that you can get vegetation started on the shoreline,” an NRCS conservationist says of a project in Galveston Bay in this article.

The new oyster colonies also filter water and remove pollutants. For a comprehensive look at how this works—and more than you probably ever wanted to know about the lifecycle and reproductive habits of the oyster—check out this articlecalled “How to Serve Oysters” from Stormwater magazine.

The Coastal Conservation Association is active in 15 states and is working to expand programs such as this one.

StormCon Is Seeking Moderators

If you plan to attend the StormCon conference in Indianapolis, August 22–25, consider stepping up to moderate one or more of the technical sessions. The full conference program is now online and many 60- and 90-minute sessions are still available. Please contact me, ([email protected]) or Brigette Burich ([email protected]) for more information or to reserve a session.
About the Author

Janice Kaspersen

Janice Kaspersen is the former editor of Erosion Control and Stormwater magazines.