Thousands flock to Oyster Festival in Ocean Isle Beach

Reported by Gavin Johnson - bio|email
Posted by Kristy Ondo - email

Over the weekend, thousands of people braced the cold weather to attend the 29th annual North Carolina Oyster Festival in Ocean Isle Beach.

According to event organizers, the chilly temperatures didn't have much of an effect on attendance.

"Because beach season is over, it's been slower," said festival organizer Megan Masser. "But this weekend there's around 30 or 40,000 people back on an island that only has 5,000 yearly."

While the festival helped the beach community bring in money, people like Sabrina Varnam, who is an oyster shell recycler, also used the festival as an opportunity to educate people on the importance of oysters.

"They're important as filter feeders," said Varnam. "One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. They provide a great habitat for fin fish, shrimp, and crabs."

According to Varnam, oysters bring in close to $2.5 million a year for the state's economy, and recycling is the key to helping more oysters grow.

"By taking the shells and putting them back in the water, we're putting a place for baby oysters to grow," said Varnam.

Jean Cheers's father used to run an oyster house in Shallotte. Over the years, Cheers has seen the number of people who catch and sell oysters decrease.

"You got more people now than you had 30 years ago," said Cheers. "And as the business grew over the years he wouldn't be able to get oysters in Shallotte. He'd have to go out of the state."

With thousands of people continuing to come to the Oyster Festival, the people involved in the oyster business hope the number of local oysters will grow as large as the crowds who flock to Ocean Isle Beach to eat them.

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