From: Brock Vergakis, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Published October 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Carolinas Try to Recycle More Oyster Shells for Shellfish Habitats

Oct. 28—The Carolinas are seeking sites to expand oyster shell recycling programs in Brunswick County, N.C., and Horry County to provide more habitat for a shellfish population that's slowly starting to rebound after decades of decline.


South Carolina's oyster shell recycling program has become a model and one that North Carolina began mimicking last year as both states fight to revive their oyster populations.


Oyster shell recycling — a process in which empty shells from restaurants and residents are collected and used to create reefs in saltwater marshes, inlets and bays — is important because when oysters spawn, they prefer to settle on other oyster shells.


Oysters are important not just for their food value, but for their role in the environment. A single oyster also purifies up to 50 gallons of water a day, and oyster beds create habitat for a variety of other species.


VGeorgetown County already has two oyster shell recycling centers and the Department of Natural Resources is looking to expand into Horry County.


"We are looking into a couple 1/8of recycling sites3/8 in Horry, one maybe in Little River," said Andy Jennings, oyster shell recycling and planting coordinator for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources.


Since 2000, South Carolina has created 98 oyster reefs at 28 sites throughout the state, including four in Georgetown County.


The more convenient the recycling centers are, the more likely residents will use them, he said.


There's also been contact with volunteers in North Myrtle Beach who are interested in a site there, Jennings said.


Officials in both states are seeking volunteers to help collect shells and identify sites for recycling centers.


The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries also is looking to expand its recycling program, which started last year. In its first year, North Carolina collected about 2,000 bushels of oyster shells. That's nearly four times the amount South Carolina collected in its first year of its program in 2000. Last year, South Carolina collected 7,200 bushels. Much of North Carolina's draw came from the Outer Banks, and now the division is looking expand father south along the coast, said Craig Hardy, chief of resource enhancement for the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.


One possible site in Brunswick County is at Brunswick Community College. Plans still are being made, but BCC President Mike Reaves is optimistic about it.


"We'd be willing to house it on campus. I don't see why not. It makes good sense," Reaves said.


As North Carolina and other states' programs expand, it could hamper South Carolina's efforts. The state buys about half of its oyster shells from processing plants in North Carolina and other states.


South Carolina buys about 15,000 bushels of a shell a year, and Jennings knows there's only so much to go around.


"It's a limited resource. There's only so much oyster shell in the world to have. North Carolina and all the other states are looking at it a little more closely," Jennings said.


WANT TO HELP?


—North Carolina: Call Steven Taylor, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, at (910) 395-3900 or Ted Wilgis, N.C. Coastal Federation, at (910) 790-3275


—South Carolina: Call Andy Jennings, S.C. Department of Natural Resources, at 953-9396


To see more of The Sun News, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.MyrtleBeachOnline.com© 2004, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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