“Don’t chuck the shuck:” How does recycling oysters help the Chesapeake Bay?

Virginia News

GWYNN’S ISLAND, Va. (WRIC) — In 2014, states that share the Chesapeake Bay started working together to improve the health of the large body of water. Virginia shares the bay with Maryland and Delaware, as well as West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, D.C.

The Virginia Oyster Shell Recycling Program (VOSRP) helps restore wild oyster populations to the bay and as a result, improves water quality and provides new fish habitats. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rice River Center plays a major role in the restoration project by facilitating the collection of oyster shells from restaurants and returning them to the Chesapeake Bay.

“We are part of a comprehensive restoration program in the Chesapeake Bay,” said Todd Janeski who runs the program. “There are five priority watersheds and where we’re working in one of those five, the Piankatank River and that restoration project has identified nearly 440 acres to be restored.”

Oysters are important to this project because they are filter feeders, Janeski explained. An adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water daily. This helps the water clarity and increases grasses.

“Everyone is winning because we have good water quality, clarity, more fish, more oysters, helping the whole process,” Janeski said.

Oyster restoration project
Volunteers help bag oysters that are recycled for the program. (Photo: 8News Matt DiNardo)

The work being done at the Piankatank River is only one of five areas that were marked in the restoration agreement. The others are Great Wicomico, Lafayette, Lynnhaven and Lower York.

Janeski and his team have put together a system for collecting oyster shells. They collect shells from over 50 Virginia restaurants and 30 public drop-off locations.

Oyster restoration project
Volunteers work recycling oysters to help restore the Chesapeake Bay (Photo: 8News Matt DiNardo)

According to VOSRP’s website, participating restaurants store empty shells in sealed containers. These containers are then picked up on a regular basis by volunteers. The oysters are then aged and placed in seeding tanks. Baby oysters, also known as “spat,” attach themselves to the shells, which are then returned to the bay.

“Since we’ve been working we have put over 40 million oysters back through this process and I think this summer, we are going to end up putting another 20 million back,” Janeski said.

Janeski said that the restoration target for the Piankatank River has about 50 acres. The project is expected to be completed by 2025.

Want to participate in oyster shell recycling? Here’s how:

  • If you don’t see your favorite restaurant listed here, ask them to join.
  • Recycle your own shells at one of 30 public drop off sites
  • Volunteer by contacting VOSRP Director, Todd Janeski: tvjaneski@vcu.edu or (804)-828-2858.

Watch Matt DiNardo’s story

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