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Millions of pounds oyster shell have been collected to be used in restoration projects.

When you go out to eat and order oysters, do you ever think of where the shells end up? In many cases, they go straight into the landfill – but they don’t have to! Your discarded shells can create oyster reefs! Oyster larvae settle on the shells that make up the reefs, which help with the health of the Indian River Lagoon.

Over the past several years, our conservation team has built and expanded our oyster shell collection program called Shuck and Share. We collect oyster shells straight from local restaurants to later use in our lagoon restoration projects – a win-win!

Shuck and Share was founded by Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach and since 2014, many organizations in Florida have joined this partnership and collected shell for restoration from their local restaurants. We are one of many partners of this awesome program.

At the beginning, we participated in the Shuck and Share program by having a site where the collected shells were dropped off, dried out and then could be used in restoration programs. Back then, we only had around five restaurants and a shucking house participating, and a third-party waste service picked up the shells. In the summer of 2018, we decided to take Shuck and Share in-house and wow – has it grown since then!

“Taking on this program ourselves allowed us to engage more of the community. We slowly started recruiting new restaurants and began weekly shell pickups,” said Olivia Escandell, the Zoo’s Conservation Manager. “To expand the program further, we applied to Brevard County Tourist Development Council’s Tourism + Lagoon grant in fall of 2018. Receiving this grant for the past three cycles has allowed us to purchase our very own Shuck and Share truck and continue to take on new restaurant partners.”

Over the past four years, our team has accomplished a TON!

Since August of 2018, we’ve collected 550,000 pounds of shell from local restaurants. In addition, 5.2 million pounds of shell have been donated to our program by Southeastern Sea Products over the years. That’s a total of 5.75 million pounds of shell. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to the weight of around 1,357 male giraffes!

Those shells have been put to good use. Over the past four years, we have been able to build 52 oyster reefs, which is equal to over 34,000 square feet of critical habitat in the lagoon.

Oyster shells are needed to promote the growth of new oysters but harvesting too many oysters from the reefs can lead to a total loss of the reef. Using discarded shells from restaurants is the perfect way to promote oyster growth without further damage and prevent waste from ending up in the landfill.

“All of that shell has been put to great use,” said Olivia. “Through our restoration projects, the shells help recruit live oysters, filter the water, protect our shorelines, remove harmful excess nutrients from the water and create habitats for many species of wildlife!”

And we’re not done yet – we have lots of shell at our collection site waiting to be put to use! According to Olivia, with the total amount of shells we have collected since the program’s beginning in 2014, we could build 4.7 acres of oyster habitat, which would support at least two million oysters. Those oysters have the ability to filter 57 million gallons of lagoon water a day – that’s equivalent to 86 Olympic swimming pools worth of water!

Our incredible success is thanks to our amazing staff, interns and Zoo volunteers who help with shell pickups every Tuesday. We are so grateful to our participating restaurants, who are eager to help in any way they can. “So many of our partners are locally-owned restaurants who have seen the way the lagoon has declined in health,” said Olivia. “Their dedication to shell recycling is a testament to how much our community cares for the lagoon.”

In total, 23 restaurants, one shucking house, one caterer and three annual festivals have contributed to our Shuck and Share program. You can learn more about our program and partners on our website. Thank you, all!

If you are or know a local restaurant that might be interested in joining our Shuck and Share recycling program, please contact us at restoreourshores@brevardzoo.org.

Brevard Zoo is an independent, not-for-profit organization that receives no recurring government funding for our operating costs. Your generous support enables us to continue to serve our community and continue our vital animal wellness, education and conservation programs.