Ever since the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ Oyster Shell Recycling Program was instigated in 2000, the public in the Palmetto State has been urged to recycle their used oyster shell.
Ben Dyar, who has been Shell Recycling Program Coordinator since 2010 and with the program since 2008, feels the message is getting across.
“I have seen it improve every year, we’re getting more shell,” said Dyar. “It’s growing, but we’ve always got more room to grow. I’m definitely getting more people that have heard about [the program] and less people that have no clue. There are still people who don’t know why we need to recycle it.”
Recycling used oyster shell to its rightful home in local estuaries is extremely important for a number of reasons, but namely because the shell is the optimal natural substance upon which new oysters form.
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The shell helps replenish oyster beds from which local oysters are harvested, both commercially and recreationally, plus some shell is used to create new oyster beds in key areas.
An abundance of healthy oyster beds is critical to the overall health of the marine ecosystem found along the coast. The beds help improve water quality, control erosion and provide habitat for numerous species of fish and shellfish.
In springtime, typically in late April or early May depending on water temperature, oysters begin spawning and continue periodically through the summer. Spat, or oyster larvae, are released into the water and need a suitable material to attach to and begin creating new oysters.
Spat prefer attaching to old oyster shells to begin creating their own shell. Once attached, the small oysters continue growing to create oyster beds.
While recycling the used shell is the right thing to do, it’s also important to let Dyar and his cohorts in the Oyster Shell Recycling Program handle the shell recycling.
“Putting it in your driveway might be better than putting it in a landfill but there’s not much difference,” said Dyar. “The main point is the best thing to do is to recycle the shell, but don’t put it back in the water yourself. We’ve spent years developing a different technique where we know the best areas where they’ll grow the most efficiently.
“We use different criteria to make sure the oyster banks don’t get mudded over or washed away by boat wakes. [Oysters are] such a key species as far as our salt marshes go. There is a new study out showing over 120 species that consider oyster shell reefs as habitat. We need shell to manage it properly. Give us your shell and we’ll put it to good use.”
Dyar also notes the used shell sits for six months before it is returned to the estuaries to ensure it doesn’t transfer any invasive species or disease to the local waters.
There are 31 oyster shell recycling drop-off sites in the state, including five in Horry and Georgetown counties.
The local locations include:
• Platt’s Seafood in Cherry Grove, 1108 Sea Mountain Highway.
• 21st Avenue North in Myrtle Beach.
• Garden City-Murrells Inlet Fire Department on U.S. Business Highway 17 in Murrells Inlet.
• Clambank Landing off U.S. Hwy. 17 on south end of Murrells Inlet.
• Waccamaw River Bridge in Georgetown.
Dyar also noted S.C. DNR can provide a trailer for used shell at large-scale oyster roasts along the coast.
For more specific directions on the drop-off locations and for more information, visit www.saltwaterfishingsc.gov/oyster.html.