Restaurants Recycle Oyster Shells to Revitalize Ocean Reefs

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Oysters are more than a tasty appetizer. The mollusks are key players in healthy marine environments. The filter-feeders improve water quality, and their beds provide habitat for fish and other underwater critters. Oyster beds also improve life out of the water, preventing coastal erosion and creating a buffer against large waves.

As oysters’ role in maintaining a vibrant coastal ecosystem becomes more clear, environmental groups are trying to bring back devastated oyster populations. In some places, this means getting restaurants to recycle their leftover oyster shells to put back into the ocean instead of sending them to a landfill, according to Fast Company.

This is particularly important along the Gulf Coast, where the Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) set up a recycling program in 2016 to collect used oyster shells from local eateries. According to The Nature Conservancy, 67 percent of the U.S. oyster harvest comes from the Gulf of Mexico [PDF]. The Nature Conservancy has been working throughout the Gulf of Mexico to restore oyster populations.

So far, the effort in Alabama, a partnership between the waste collection company Republic Services and the ACF, has collected enough oyster shells to cover 7.2 acres of sea floor. The program is currently funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is free to restaurants, though that may change in the future.

Alabama isn’t the only place oyster shells are becoming a hot commodity. In New York City, the Billion Oyster Project is working to restore oyster populations and reefs in New York Harbor, in part to make Staten Island more resilient to superstorms and flooding. (Hurricane Sandy ravaged the island's east and south shores in 2012.) In New Jersey, the American Littoral Society is seeding local waterways with new oysters in Barnegat Bay in hopes of both restoring the once-vibrant oyster harvesting industry there and cleaning the waterways. Other oyster repopulation projects are ongoing in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. On the West Coast, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund plans to restore 100 acres of native oyster habitats by 2020.

However, oyster habitat restoration isn’t as easy as it sounds. In a 15-year study of Rhode Island’s oyster restoration programs, the oysters had such a high mortality rate that populations began declining immediately when the programs stopped actively re-seeding the beds with new oysters. Another worldwide study found that the median survival rate for oyster bed restoration projects was only 56 percent.

As many current oyster restoration projects are just gaining steam, it may be years before we find out if they can be as effective as natural oyster beds.

[h/t Fast Company]

Thursday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Guitar Kits, Memory-Foam Pillows, and Smartwatches

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 3. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Fun Fact: More Than 75 National Forests Will Let You Chop Down Your Own Christmas Tree

Want a holiday tree? Drop by your nearest national forest.
Want a holiday tree? Drop by your nearest national forest.
Artem Baliaikin, Pexels

While plenty of people celebrate the holiday season with a neat and tidy artificial Christmas tree, there’s nothing quite like having the smell of fresh evergreen fir needles littering your floor. But before you head to your nearest tree farm or Walmart, think about a national forest instead. More than 75 of them will let you chop your own tree. Best of all, it’s actually good for the forests.

The United States Forest Service encourages people to grab a holiday tree from their land because it means less competition for room and sunlight for the remaining trees and allows wildlife to flourish. All you have to do is find your nearest national forest at Recreation.gov and apply for a permit—usually $10 or so—to begin chopping. The Forest Service recommends selecting trees no larger than 12 to 15 feet in height, with a 6-inch trunk diameter. They usually ask that you select a tree roughly 200 feet away from roads or campgrounds and make sure you let someone know where you’re going in case you get lost.

Different forests have different species of trees and slightly different rules, so it’s best to check with the forest for their guidelines before you rev up the chainsaw. And no, tree traffickers, you can’t harvest trees for resale.

[h/t CNN]