About two and a half years into an oyster shell recycling program, Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) Executive Director Mark Berte said results have been impressive.
“We have, as of last week, 8.7 million shells and that is about 22-and-a-half acres of coverage to help build oyster reefs,” Berte said. “It’s the weight of 186 elephants. Each one of those half shells can hold up to 10 oysters which can grow on top of those shells.”
An advisory council with members from the Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening program, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, P.J. Waters of the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Chandra Wright with Gulf State Park Lodge help decide where the recycled oysters will be placed. Restaurant members are on the council as well.
“We’ve had lots of them placed out in the waters of Alabama mostly through the oyster gardening program,” Berte said.
The grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation came through in October 2016 after an outreach event for ACF at the Flora-Bama Yacht Club and the chef there encouraged Berte to consider the program.
“Literally, two weeks after that event, we saw this grant opportunity and we thought it seemed like a perfect fit to start the oyster shell recycling program,” Berte said.
The grant called for collecting enough shells to create five acres in each of the first two years in the program and that was easily surpassed in the first year, Berte said. It also called for 30 participating restaurants, which was also reached. The number is just 16 now, but Berte would like to keep expanding the program. There are eight restaurants in South Baldwin County, three on the Eastern Shore and the rest are on the causeway or in Mobile.
“Now we’re open to any of the restaurants in both coastal counties,” he said. “We had 30 sign up, but not all of them stayed as a part of the program. But the ones that did we want to make sure to tell people about them so they can go in and support the businesses that are also supporting our environment.”
Restaurants fund 60 percent of the program costs by putting the shells in recycling bins and paying the program to haul them off. It’s a cost they’d be incurring anyway, but this makes the shells available for reuse.
“The other 40 percent we asked people to shuck a buck toward ACF and it helps raise the funds to cover the other parts of the program,” Berte said. “Go support the restaurants that are doing it. If your favorite restaurant is not and serves oysters on the half shell and are not participating, we’ll send the information to them to help make that happen.”
The shells have to be cured for about six months in the sun to get rid of any food residue or bacteria before they can be reused. There are 14 other programs in the country similar to the ACF’s with the local one modeled after those in New Orleans and Corpus Christi, Texas.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).