South Carolina’s commercial shellfish harvest has remained stable over the past three decades.
But, the closing of oyster canneries and shucking houses has resulted in a shortage of harvested oyster shells needed to cultivate and restore oyster beds. The increasing popularity of backyard oyster roasts and by-the-bushel retail sales have contributed to this shortage. Shells remaining from individual oyster roasts rarely return to the estuary. More often than not, the shell ends up in driveways and landfills.
These factors contribute to the shortage of oyster shells used for planting purposes and sustaining oyster habitat.
The state has been forced to purchase the majority of its oyster shell from out-of-state processors to supplement our stocks of shell for planting. In order for SCDNR to properly manage the state’s shellfish resources and maintain these critical habitats, we must continue to maximize our efforts to recycle our oyster shells. Recycling your shells will help restore, preserve, and enhance the state’s inshore marine habitat.
4 Big Benefits of Oyster Shell Recycling:
- A Harvestable & Renewable Resource: Each year tens of thousands of bushels are harvested recreationally and commercially.
- Estuarine Filters: Adult oysters filter up to 2.5 gallons of water per hour or up to 50 gallons per day.
- Habitat: Oysters build reefs which provide habitat for fish, shrimp, crabs, and other animals. They are an integral part of the marine ecosystem. There are nearly 120 different species that frequent oyster reefs, including; Red Drum, Blue Crabs, Flounder, and Shrimp.
- Erosion Control: Oyster reefs are natural breakwaters that absorb wave energy and protect marsh shorelines from erosion.
How does this process work?
During the summer months, oysters spawn and release free-swimming larvae, called spat, into the water column. Tides and currents carry the spat. After spending about two weeks moving in the water column, the spat seeks a suitable surface upon which to attach and build their shells. Unless disturbed, they spend the remainder of their life cycle where they have attached.
Centuries of oyster cultivation experience proves oyster shells are one of most desirable materials (called cultch) for attachment and subsequent growth of young oysters. Other cultch materials, such as shucked whelk shell and wooden stakes have been very successful in attracting and supporting oyster spat.
Your license recycles!
Each year, oyster shell used for planting public shellfish grounds has become increasingly expensive and hard to find. A SCDNR project, funded by the revenue generated by Saltwater Recreational Fishing License sales, makes it possible to recycle oyster shell and reclaim this valuable resource to enhance shellfish habitat.
As this conservation initiative gains public awareness and participation, it is hoped that increased volumes of oyster shell will be made available for planting Public Shellfish Grounds by SCDNR personnel and equipment and by contract with private companies to improve recreational shellfish harvesting opportunities for the public.
Recycling Do’s and Don’ts:
- DO separate shell from trash. Shell mixed with trash is not suitable for recycling. Provide separate containers for shell and trash.
- DO dump shells from bags or containers and leave only shells in the bins.
- DON’T put live oysters in our local waters. If you purchased oysters harvested outside South Carolina, it is illegal to place them in South Carolina waters. Placing imported oysters in our waters creates environmental problems and may harm local oysters or other animals.
- DO bring your shell to the nearest shell recycling center.
- DON’T put freshly shucked oysters shell in local waters. To avoid contamination, the DNR and properly quarantines shells for 6 months.
Oyster Shell Drop-Off Locations in the Hilton Head Area:
Hilton Head Bin at Coastal Discovery Museum
The recycling bin is located inside the Coastal Discovery Museum located at 70 Honey Horn Dr., Hilton Head. Once inside the gate take your first left, there will be a sign to direct you, and the wooden three sided bin is just on your left. The entrance to the Coastal Discovery Museum at Honey Horn is located off of Gumtree Rd. Take either Cross Island Pkwy or William Hilton Pkwy (278 BUS) to Gumtree Rd near where 278 splits.
Bluffton Bin at Trask Landing
Off 278 take Sawmill Creek Rd. which is .85 miles down from Bluffton Rd. Trask Landing is at the end of Sawmill Creek Rd. The recycling bin is a DNR trailer.