The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is seeking additional restaurants and volunteers in Hampton Roads to pitch in to restore the native oyster population during Virginia oyster month this November.
Volunteers for CBF’s oyster shell recycling program collect empty shells from participating restaurants. These shells become the building blocks for new oyster reefs. Every year CBF turns about 2,000 bushels of empty shells into habitat for millions of oysters planted in Virginia waters.
“Many people don’t realize that oyster shells are a precious resource that should go back in the water,” said CBF Oyster Restoration Specialist Heather North. “By simply saving used shells, restaurants are helping rebuild oyster reefs that in turn support local seafood. Our network of restaurants and volunteers is a key part of boosting Virginia’s oyster population.”
Restaurants from Virginia Beach to Charlottesville are currently saving empty oyster shells. Eating at these restaurants ensures that shells will be used for restoration projects. Volunteers collect the shells weekly and take them to nearby drop-off locations. Once the shells are cleaned and cured, CBF places them in 800-gallon water tanks containing microscopic oyster larvae that attach themselves to the empty shells. CBF plants these on sanctuary oyster reefs in local rivers and the Bay. The oysters grow, reproduce, and form reefs that provide habitat for crabs, fish, shrimp, and other life.
CBF’s oyster shell recycling program allows seafood restaurants to give back to the waters they depend on. The program also is another way for volunteers to help restore the Bay. Susan and Jack Elder are volunteers. They collect shells from local restaurants such as The Butcher’s Son in Chesapeake.
“If we can take a few hours each week to help save our natural resources, it’s worth it,” said Susan. “We want to help support the oyster population in the Bay. Sometimes the obstacles facing the health of our environment seem overwhelming, but this is a way for even one person to make a difference.”
All ages are encouraged to participate in the program. Marty Schildwachter sometimes takes his six-year-old grandson Sean Trudell to pick up shells from restaurants in Virginia Beach. He sees the program as an opportunity to do his part for the Bay and teach Sean about conservation. “It gives me a feeling of accomplishment and it helps clean things up. We are stewards of our Bay,” said Schildwachter.
Volunteers or restaurants interested in participating can contact North at HNorth@cbf.org. For more information and to see the list of participating restaurants and drop-off locations for shells, click here.