Restoring estuaries by eating oysters

Guest blog by Claire Quinn.

Oyster reefs are a critical ecosystem that have been negatively impacted by overharvesting, disease, and other factors. In order to restore oyster reefs, many conservation organizations put used oyster shells back into the water so oyster larvae, known as spat, have a hard substrate on which to grow. But, conservation organizations generally do not have used oyster shells readily available to them, so they turned to restaurants and seafood businesses for help. Partnering with these businesses has multiple benefits – providing shells for restoration work, diverting this shell from landfills, and engaging restaurant patrons with restoration efforts simply by eating oysters. In order for the patrons to engage with the restoration efforts, however, they need to be made aware of them. Which caused me to ask, are restaurants advertising their participation in oyster shell recycling programs?

Given the critical role these businesses play in oyster reef restoration, I was surprised to find relatively few advertise their involvement with oyster shell recycling. In fact, approximately 100 businesses are partnered with four organizations involved in oyster reef restoration (Billion Oyster Project, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Virginia and Maryland, the Galveston Bay Foundation, and the Brevard Zoo), but less than 20 have information on their websites about oyster shell recycling. This could be a missed opportunity to advertise to potential patrons who prefer supporting environmentally-friendly businesses. Additionally, advertising would allow restaurant patrons to learn about shell recycling programs, which could motivate patrons to get more involved. As many oyster reef restoration projects rely on volunteers to keep the programs cost-effective, this could allow organizations to expand their work. It also provides a platform to educate about estuarine ecosystems in a setting that may not typically allow for these opportunities. This could ultimately benefit the patron/consumer, the restaurant, and the restoration organization as it displays the connection between people and estuaries.

Advertising sustainability in any form allows consumers to feel good about their choice of patronage. And we, as consumers, can support estuarine restoration simply through eating at a particular restaurant! So, the next time you are looking to eat oysters, see if the restaurant is involved in oyster shell recycling. And, if they are not advertising it, encourage them to so we can involve more people in estuarine restoration!

Claire Quinn completed this research as a part of her graduate work with Project Dragonfly at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.