95-Year-Old Williamsburg Man Honored as Longest-Serving Oyster Restoration Volunteer

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) today presented Walter Zadan with an award for outstanding environmental stewardship recognizing him as CBF’s longest-serving Virginia oyster shell recycling volunteer. The 95-year-old Williamsburg resident still picks up oyster shells weekly from Berrett’s Seafood Restaurant for use in CBF oyster restoration work. Each shell can become home for 10 baby oysters, called spat, which attach to the shells before being planted on reefs. 

Over the past 13 years, Zadan has recycled approximately 9,280 bushels from four restaurants, totaling about 2.78 million shells. These have become home to about 27 million oysters that CBF and partners have planted on sanctuary reefs. Berrett’s and other restaurants that save shell for restoration are key to efforts to bring back the Chesapeake Bay’s once-decimated oyster reefs. 

“Walter is truly inspirational. Well into his 90s, he’s still loading buckets of oyster shells, baking bread for friends and fellow volunteers, and sharing stories from decades of environmental advocacy,” said CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon. “His kindness and dedication have been a recipe for a long, active, and meaningful life.” 

Zadan says that volunteering with CBF’s oyster restoration team incorporates three things that are key to staying healthy: eating good food, exercising regularly, and giving back to society. 

He first moved to Williamsburg in 1998 following a career working in restaurants and as a culinary teacher. Zadan’s environmental advocacy began while living in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, where he fought for clean air as a leader in the Group Against Smog and Pollution. After moving to Norfolk in the 1980s he was shocked that local seafood was scarce due to plummeting oyster and striped bass populations.

“I was surprised that this iconic fishery all of a sudden was gone,” Zadan said. “It reminded me of how people can abuse the environment, whether it’s air pollution in Pittsburg or overfishing in the Chesapeake Bay.” 

The decline of the Bay’s fisheries spurred his involvement with CBF. Zadan first began public speaking for CBF around the year 2000, visiting local organizations and events to motivate people to Save the Bay. He has also published numerous letters to the editor in newspapers advocating for the protection of clean water. 

Zadan has been a regular oyster shell recycling volunteer since 2008, one of dozens of Virginia volunteers who pick up shells that restaurants save after meals to become building blocks for new oyster reefs. Volunteers then deposit them in designated oyster shell recycling bins around the state. When the bins are full, volunteers shovel the shells into a truck to be driven to the CBF's oyster restoration center. There the empty shells are cleaned and placed into large tanks with free-swimming baby oyster larvae, called spat, which must attach to a hard surface to grow into adult oysters. 

The restoration efforts using recycled shells contribute to the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance goal of adding 10 billion oysters to the Bay by 2025.

“We wouldn’t be able to restore oyster reefs in Virginia without our many volunteers like Walter,” said CBF’s Shannon. “Walter’s dedication and positive attitude provide a wonderful example of how anyone can pitch in and make the world a better place.” 

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Kenny Fletcher 90x110

Kenny Fletcher

Director of Communications and Media Relations, CBF

[email protected]

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