Louisiana is famous for its seafood, not least of all, its oysters. Served on the half shell, chargrilled, or fried, our coast serves up millions of the tasty bottom-dwellers each year, to locals and tourists alike. Louisiana is the top producer of oysters in the nation, shelling over 70% of the oysters consumed in the U.S. – that’s 1.3 million tons of the briny bivalves.
Sadly, most of the shell ends up in landfills instead of being returned to the water – bad news for baby oysters, which need a hard surface on which to grow into a healthy reef. This shell deficit has even more dire consequences for our coast than just loss of oyster habitat. It is contributing to our land loss crisis.
Louisiana is losing land faster than anywhere else in the nation – about a football field of marshland washes away every 100 minutes, taking vital habitat for our seafood favorites with it, economic and cultural opportunity, and stability for those who call Louisiana home.
In response to this land loss crisis and shell deficit, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana’s (CRCL) Oyster Shell Recycling Program was born. Since 2014, we’ve collected nearly 3,700 tons (~7.4 million pounds) of shell from New Orleans area restaurants, destined to be returned to Louisiana’s coastal waters to help restore oyster reefs, create fish habitat, and stabilize our coastline.
A portion of the recycled shell is donated to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ oyster reef aquaculture research, to help support the sustainability of the oyster fishing economy in our state.
With the help of more than 600 volunteers, we constructed our first living shoreline oyster reef in 2016 in the Biloxi Marsh (Southeast of New Orleans) using more than 840 tons of collected shell. It stretches for a half mile along a shoreline that is continuously battered by high wave action.
Through our ongoing monitoring program, we have seen the erosion rate of the marsh begin to slow, and baby oysters are settling and growing on the newly constructed reef. It is becoming a living shoreline right before our eyes.
We’ll construct our second reef in the Pointe-Aux-Chenes area. We are working in collaboration with the Pointe-Au-Chien Indian Tribe to protect a culturally significant area that is in danger of being washed away. Our Oyster Shells will be another line of defense for this important landmark.
We currently have 17 New Orleans area restaurants participating in the program. They have demonstrated a continued dedication to the sustainability of the local seafood industry and the health of Louisiana’s coast by choosing to recycle their oyster shell with CRCL.
So, when you visit New Orleans, you can be a part of saving our coast by visiting these restaurants and eating lots of delicious oysters. And remember, “Once you shuck ‘em, don’t just chuck ‘em!”.
Jimmy Frederick is communications director at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.