Search Santee Cooper
Power Source
Spring 2017

................

South Carolina Notable State

................

All Stories From The CEO Business Briefly News Source Download PDF Past Issues
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources provides containers in public areas to encourage oyster shell recycling.
South Carolina Department of Natural Resources provides containers in public areas to encourage oyster shell recycling.

Oyster Shell Recycling

“He was a very valiant man who first adventured on eating of oysters.” 
The History of the Worthies of England, by Thomas Fuller, 1662 

Whether raw, on the half shell, steamed, fried or fire roasted, oysters are a popular delicacy in South Carolina and around the world. While slurping down these salty treats, you may only be thinking about how good they taste. Make no mistake; oysters do more than satisfy cravings.

Just ask Ben Dyar. As the manager of the state’s public shellfish grounds, oyster shell recycling and large-scale oyster renourishment program with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Dyar knows there’s a lot more to loving oysters than the satisfaction of shucking and eating them.

“Oysters are very important for many reasons. Oysters offer an important environment for sea life, they have the ability to filter water and they help curb erosion,” said Dyar. “Everywhere you see a healthy oyster bed, you will see a healthy marsh behind it.”

 

More than 250 bushels of oysters were steamed and served at the Shuckin’ in the Park event at Old Santee Canal Park in Moncks Corner.
More than 250 bushels of oysters were steamed and served at the Shuckin’ in the Park
event at Old Santee Canal Park in Moncks Corner.

Dyar said he’s had the pleasure of working for SCDNR for the past 13 years, first working in oyster research and oyster research manage-ment before moving on to his current position with SCDNR’s Shellfish Research Management Section, which monitors the state of oyster and clam resources, studies oyster reef ecology, develops and evaluates oyster restoration methods, and assesses the success of restor-ation efforts.

In South Carolina and many places in the Southeastern United States, oysters are primarily intertidal, meaning they’re covered by water during high tide and not under water at low tide. Although intertidal oyster reefs can occur in the middle of creeks and bays, where they are often called oyster “flats,” SCDNR said a large percentage of South Carolina’s oysters collect along the edges of tidal creeks where they form “fringing” reefs. Either way, oysters play an important role in the ecosystem.

“Oysters are a very valuable habitat to a whole host of organisms including crabs, fish, shrimp, snails, worms and gastropods. The more commercially and recreationally important species that utilize oyster reefs are red drum, flounder, spotted sea trout and shrimp,” said Dyar. “The larger predatory animals can find a high abundance of food within oyster reefs. The reefs also provide a three dimensional structure for smaller organisms to gather for protection and act as spawning grounds or nursery grounds for many important species.”

Steamed oysters ready to be shucked and eaten (left), and then the shells are recycled. Steamed oysters ready to be shucked and eaten (left), and then the shells are recycled.
Steamed oysters ready to be shucked and eaten (left), and then the shells are recycled.

He also explained that the oyster shell recycling and renourishment program is necessary to properly manage South Carolina’s oyster populations.

“The shell we put out acts as a substrate, or cultch, material for the larval oysters to land on and create their own shell, which eventually creates an oyster reef,” he said. “If the larval oysters land in mud, they will die. They need a hard substrate to land on and attach themselves to so they can filter feed.” 

As filter feeders, oysters are also natural housekeepers. They strain particles and small organisms out of the water by circulating them through their systems. In short, they clean the waters in which they live. According to SCDNR, one adult oyster can filter up to 2.5 gallons of water per hour. That could equate to more than 50 gallons per day depending on the tides.

“This improves our water quality, our water clarity and removes excess phytoplankton out of the water, which reduces the amount of harmful algal blooms,” Dyar said.

Oysters also act as erosion control barriers. Waves created by natural causes and boat wakes can wreak erosional havoc on intertidal areas. Oysters help curb that erosion, protecting the area from impacts of waves.

Oyster shell recycling trailers like this one are convenient ways to collect and transport the shells prior to bagging.
Oyster shell recycling trailers like this one are convenient ways to collect and transport the shells prior to bagging.

These are substantial reasons to protect and preserve the mighty oyster. And to do that, Dyar and his team work diligently on oyster recycling and renourishment. They also work in conjunction with the South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement Program (SCORE). SCDNR Wildlife Biologist II Michael Hodges manages SCORE, which is a community-based program that works with volunteers to restore and enhance oyster habitats by planting recycled oyster shells in the intertidal environment to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs. Hodges has been working with DNR and the SCORE program since 2002.

“We all work hard on oyster restoration,” Hodges explained. “The difference is where we com-plete restoration and construction with the help of volunteers.”

Dyar and his group work specifically in areas open for public harvesting of oysters. Hodges and SCORE work in areas other than public harvest grounds. Both Dyar and Hodges manage small teams, so volunteers play a critical role in the success of SCDNR’s oyster efforts, doing everything from bagging oyster shells to oyster reef construction.

After collection, recycled shells are bagged in loose netting, then transported by boat to a renourishment site (top left and right). Volunteers form an assembly line to unload the bagged shells (bottom left) and place them along waterways to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs. After collection, recycled shells are bagged in loose netting, then transported by boat to a renourishment site (top left and right). Volunteers form an assembly line to unload the bagged shells (bottom left) and place them along waterways to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs. After collection, recycled shells are bagged in loose netting, then transported by boat to a renourishment site (top left and right). Volunteers form an assembly line to unload the bagged shells (bottom left) and place them along waterways to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs. After collection, recycled shells are bagged in loose netting, then transported by boat to a renourishment site (top left and right). Volunteers form an assembly line to unload the bagged shells (bottom left) and place them along waterways to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs.
After collection, recycled shells are bagged in loose netting, then transported by boat to a renourishment site (top left and right). Volunteers form an assembly line to unload the bagged shells (bottom left) and place them along waterways to form new, self-sustaining oyster reefs.

With oyster populations in decline, this is more important than ever. Declines in oyster populations are associated with adverse effects on other species, reduced water quality and changes in ecosystem dynamics. Volunteers are educated on the value of oysters to the estuarine ecosystem in hopes they will make better educated decisions on ways they can help to slow that decline and become better stewards of the environment. 

“My passion for the SCORE program runs deep and is reinforced by having the opportunity to get thousands of people involved annually in a program that provides opportunities on so many levels, including creating positive impacts on the environment. We want to empower the people to make a difference in their environment,” Hodges said. “The success of the program is totally dependent on volunteers. They are the driving force behind SCORE. We couldn’t accomplish a fraction of the work that we have without their participation over the years.”

According to Hodges, each year since 2010 the program has deployed more bags and worked with more volunteers than the year before.

“This is rewarding because it means that SCORE is continuing to grow,” he said. “We hope this trend continues moving forward.”

Renourishing oyster beds can be dirty work, but volunteers and SCDNR employees are dedicated to the task.
Renourishing oyster beds can be dirty work, but volunteers and SCDNR employees are dedicated to the task.

During the 2016 season, more than 4,900 volunteers donated over 10,000 hours of service to help with the various volunteer activities SCORE offers. These include bagging oyster shells, constructing oyster reefs, recycling oyster shells, raising and transplanting marsh grass, monitoring water quality and sampling fish populations. Since 2001, the SCORE program has worked with more than 29,000 volunteers who donated more than 73,000 hours of service. 

Many others are doing their part, too. At Old Santee Canal Park in Moncks Corner, oyster lovers enjoyed buckets of these briny bivalves during the annual Shuckin’ in the Park oyster roast on March 11. Brad Sale, education coordinator for Old Santee Canal Park, said oyster shell recycling is on the minds of park employees before, during and after the event.

After placing bags of oyster shells in a waterway near McLellanville, S.C., SCDNR employees count the bags in order to keep detailed records of the renourishment.
After placing bags of oyster shells in a waterway near McLellanville, S.C., SCDNR employees count the bags in order to keep detailed records of the renourishment.

“It’s important for us to help with the collection and recycling of the oyster shells we use at the festival because we understand the importance of oyster bed renourishment,” Sale said. “As part of SCDNR’s SCORE program, we request two trailers in advance for the oyster roast. The empty trailers are delivered Friday, festival-goers enjoy the oysters on Saturday, and then SCDNR picks up the trailers full of shells on Monday. We go through more than 200 bushels of oysters at the event, and we aim to recycle 100 percent of those.”

Dyar said helping the public, including those hosting small and large-scale oyster roasts, understand the significance of recycling oyster shells is of the utmost importance.

Signs identify areas where oyster renourishment is in place.
Signs identify areas where oyster renourishment is in place.

“We want the public to know how and why they should recycle their shells,” Dyar explained. “To properly manage our state’s oyster grounds, we currently plant more shell than we recycle, which forces us to purchase shell from out-of-state sources. These sources are getting scarcer and more expensive.

“This program would not be possible without the citizens recycling their shell, and we need their help to sustain the future of this program and our oyster populations.”