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A Ton of Oyster Shells Returned to Coast

The North Carolina Coastal Federation will use the oyster shells for projects like this oyster reef the organization created in Hoop Pole Creek in Carteret County. Photo: North Carolina Coastal Federation

WANCHESE— More than a ton of oyster shells made their way back to the coast from a small mountain town southwest of Asheville.

Macon County Public Works recycling coordinator Shaun Cribbs delivered the more than 2,000 pounds of oyster shells to Wanchese, where the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s northeast office is located, following the Highlands Food and Wine Festival annual event held in November.

About 25 bushels of North Carolina oysters were harvested then transported to Highlands to be consumed at the event. ZeroHero, an organization dedicated to reducing waste following large events, handled the event’s waste management and contacted the federation about recycling the oyster shells.

In coordination with Macon County Public Works and the Division of Marine Fisheries, the shells were driven eight hours across the state for the federation to use in habitat restoration projects, when the empty shells are strategically placed in coastal waters where they will attract and grow new oyster reefs.

“This is a great example of people coming together to do the right thing,” Leslie Vegas, Northeast coastal specialist for the federation and the regional lead on shell recycling, said in a statement. “The event organizers and Macon County realized the importance of getting these shells back to the coast where they can be used to grow more oysters.”

From 2002 to 2013, the state-funded shell recycling program run by the Division of Marine Fisheries provided centralized drop-off locations, collection and transportation of shells from restaurants, festivals and oyster roasts and the maintenance of dumpsters. The program was scaled down from 2013 to 2018, when the program was terminated. While operating, the program provided 6-15 percent of the needed material for restoration activities.

Since then, the federation has worked to coordinate shell recycling efforts from oyster roasts and coastal restaurants.

“We’re proud to have been able to make the connections and coordinate this effort. The shells will be used in our local restoration efforts to grow more oysters,” said Vegas.

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The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.