Nonprofit Plans Mississippi Oyster Shell Recycling Program

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) – An environmental group is using fines from the BP oil spill in 2010 to plan Mississippi’s first oyster shell recycling program.

“It’s very simple: take the real oyster shell and reuse it to help restore the very resource it provides. But the devil is always in the details, ”said Alex Littlejohn, state director of The Nature Conservancy. “We want to learn from other successful programs like this in other states, solve the problems, and make it a viable program for Mississippi.”

At least 14 other states have programs in place that collect empty shells from restaurants, festivals and other venues and use them to build coastal reefs. An investigation ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic revealed such programs in the four Gulf Coast states, nine on the East Coast and California, said Tom Mohrman, director of marine programs at The Nature Conservancy.

Programs often cover specific areas, such as Galveston Bay or Mobile Bay, but the Mississippi coastline is small enough that one program can cover it all, he said.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is usually teeming with oyster larvae, but needs more hard surfaces where they can settle and grow into oysters, the organization said in a press release Tuesday. Oyster reefs also create hotbeds for other types of marine life, slow waves that erode coastlines and purify water – each oyster can filter up to 25 gallons per day.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is backing the project with $ 650,000 in water pollution fines paid after the BP oil spill in 2010. Mohrman said The Nature Conservancy will use the money to analyze potential sources of discarded oyster shells, plan a pilot program, and then, if approved, start collecting shellfish.

Oyster populations and harvests have declined over time in the Mississippi Strait and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Causes can include overexploitation, natural and man-made disasters, water quality, and loss of oyster reefs.

“Oyster shells are one of the best places for new oyster growth. This is how they do it naturally, and with this program, eating and tasting oysters can be an act of conservation, ”said Mohrman. “The implementation of this pilot project is an opportunity to support the local fishing community, local restaurants, and also to give back to the environment while protecting and growing a precious natural resource. “

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