With indoor dining in Virginia and Maryland restaurants still restricted, oyster restoration efforts are facing a depleted supply of the shells needed to stock sanctuary oyster reefs. In Virginia alone, restaurants and oyster lovers supplied 3,000 bushels of oyster shells to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) oyster reef restoration efforts in 2019. CBF expects 2020 numbers to be lower due to restaurant restrictions related to COVID-19.
The dozens of Virginia and Maryland restaurants that participate in CBF’s shell recycling program save empty oyster shells after meals, which are picked up by volunteers and brought to shell collection bins. These empty shells are cleaned and eventually become homes for the baby oysters that attach to them. CBF restoration experts plant the shells and baby oysters on sanctuary reefs off-limits to harvest.
“With fewer people eating oysters in restaurants, we can’t count on a steady stream of restaurant shells, which have been vital for restoration work. Many people are now enjoying local oysters at home, but don’t forget to recycle those shells,” said CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon. “You can help bring back oysters in the Chesapeake whenever you drop off those empty shells at designated bins around Coastal Virginia. They’ll eventually form homes for oysters, crabs, and fish on a new sanctuary reef.”