Shell-recycling program

Published 8:40 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

By Staff
adds new collection site
Belhaven location offersconvenience to residentsin northeast part of county
Contributing Editor
A new collection site for oyster shells that will be recycled opens at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.
The site is located at 109 Old Pamlico Beach Road in the Belhaven area, according to Sabrina Varnam, coordinator of the state’s oyster-shell recycling program. The new site joins other such sites in Beaufort County at the request of some Belhaven-area residents who asked for a site in their area of the county, Varnam said.
All such collection sites in the state also collect calcium-based shells such as clam shells and conch shells, she said.
Collections sites in Beaufort County are located at the county landfill on Hawkins Beach Road, the Chocowinity trash-collection center off N.C. Highway 33, the Cherry Run trash-collection center on Cherry Run Road, the Magnolia School Road trash-collection center and the trash-collection center on U.S. Highway 264 at Yeatesville. The trash-collection sites are managed by GDS.
Individuals, state agencies, restaurants and others participate in the state’s program to recycle oyster shells. The recycled shells are used to create oyster reefs in the state’s shellfish waters.
Varnam is pleased with the program’s results.
During the program’s first year in Beaufort County in 2003, it collected 35 bushels of oyster shells, In 2004, 68 bushels were collected. But in 2005, the number of bushels collected soared to 7,750.
Varnam credits that increase to Washington Crab &Oyster Co. joining the program that year.
The inclusion of Blackbeard’s restaurant in the program also helped increase the number of oyster shells being collected in Beaufort County, she said.
In 2006, the first year the public was allowed to participate in the program, 5,861 bushels were collected in Beaufort County. In 2007, the number of bushels collected reach the 10,011 mark. Varnam attributes the increase from 2006 to 2007 to the program receiving plenty of publicity.
The 2008 figure for Beaufort County has not been finalized, she said.
Because of habitat loss, pollution, disease and harvest pressure, the oyster population has declined by 90 percent since the turn of the 20th century, according to information provided by Varnam. Commercial harvests three years ago totaled 71,500 bushels compared to 1.8 million bushels landed in 1902. The program, which began in the fall of 2003, wants to reverse that trend.
The laws Varnam referred to address the protection of the state’s oyster beds and commercial fishing of those oyster beds.
Oysters clean water by feeding on plankton and waterborne detritus. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, so the larger and healthier the oyster population, the cleaner the water, according to program literature. Oyster reefs provide an artificial habitat for other creatures that are important to the estuarine environment. Algae, worms, barnacles, crabs, small minnows and fish will live in and around the reefs.
One oyster produces millions of eggs every year that are carried by currents and tides, spreading them to other areas. From dumping the shells overboard in certain areas with brackish water and good tidal flow, the artificial reefs created will provide an environment where these eggs can settle, grow and reproduce.