By Chad Perko, CBA Ecology Technician
As an Ecology Technician for Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance, one of my primary duties is to oversee our oyster shell recycling program. You may ask, “Why does an oyster shell need to be recycled and what does CBA do with it?” Well, it’s all about the bay. Our community is home to the Choctawhatchee Bay. The bay stretches 30 miles from east to west and consists of brackish waters that are home to abundant wildlife and diverse recreational opportunities, making it the lifeblood of our area’s current and future ecological and economic health. Throughout the bay’s history it has supported diverse habitats for humans and wildlife alike. Of all the creatures that call the Choctawhatchee Bay home, the humble oyster is perhaps the most important to the bay’s health.
Oyster reefs are an important marine habitat since oysters act as Mother Nature’s water filtration system. For example, one adult oyster is capable of filtering 50 gallons of water in one day, improving the water clarity and quality, which benefits the entire bay and by extension our community. So, just imagine what an entire oyster reef—typically hosting thousands of oysters—can do for the bay’s water quality! Sadly, in recent decades, as the local human population has soared, our oyster population has declined due to increased stormwater runoff and habitat alteration. Thankfully, our community is home to The Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA), the non-profit, 100 percent grant and donor funded environmental organization that I work for, whose mission is to promote swimmable, fishable waterways in our community through monitoring, education, restoration and research. As part of our Restoration Program, we have taken on the important mission of working to increase the Choctawhatchee Bay’s oyster reef populations, improving habitat and water quality.
The CBA organizes an Oyster Shell Recycling Program in partnership with local seafood restaurants. We collect shucked oyster shells that would otherwise end up in a landfill and use them as the building blocks to construct oyster reefs and restore oyster populations. The recycled oyster shells provide oyster spat (larva) with a stable surface material where they can attach and grow. The CBA picks up oyster shells three times a week from participating restaurants. The oyster shells are then taken back to CBA’s staging area, where they stay for several months allowing the sunlight and rainwater to clean the shells.
Once the shells are clean, the CBA and volunteers bag the shells in marine grade mesh bags, forming the building blocks for an oyster reef. We place the bags in the water at our permitted restoration sites around the bay. Oyster spat then settle on the oyster shell and begin to grow and reproduce. Soon, the new oyster reef becomes its own diverse ecosystem, providing a habitat for other beneficial marine life as well.
The CBA Oyster Shell Recycling Program currently partners with Acme Oyster House, AJ’s in Grayton Beach, The Back Porch, Half Shell Oyster House (Destin), The Henderson, Johnny O’Quigley’s , The Surf Hut (Destin), and Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar. This year the CBA is planning to expand their reach into Okaloosa Island and Fort Walton Beach as they have secured new funding from Impact 100 Northwest Florida to make an even bigger impact for the overall community! Find out more at basinalliance.org. (Photos by Sean Murphy)