New oyster recycling program hopes to help declining population

Updated: Dec. 3, 2019 at 5:50 PM EST
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - The North Carolina Coastal Federation has started The Oyster Shell Recycling Program in hopes of bringing back the oyster population after years of decline.

“We’ve lost anywhere from 75 to 85 percent of oysters in North Carolina, so we’re trying to rebuild the oyster population,” says Ted Wilgis of the NC Coastal Federation. “One of the things we need to restore oysters is shells to build new reefs... that reef will gives us benefits, but also helps the oyster.”

Oysters filter our waters and provide a natural protective barrier against storms. The organisms, however, are intimately connected to the environment they live in.

“With climate change, what you’re seeing with the warmer temperature, there is more carbon dioxide which can make the ocean water more acidic, which can reduce the oysters ability to produce shells," says Wilgis. “Increased storm events, like Florence, where estuaries that were usually full of salt, go fresh, for months on end which oysters don’t like, they can die.”

James Hargrove with Middle Sound Mariculture says many other local oyster farmers buy baby oysters and don’t expect farmed oyster population to decline.

“Indirectly, we are benefiting from the cultch plating, which is just shells being put in the water, through biological filtration. So we have water quality benefits as farmers to this program,” says Hargrove.

The shells will be collected at different locations across Onslow, Pender, New Hanover and Brunswick counties.

Two new recycling dumpsters have been placed in Carolina Beach, at the end of Bridge Barrier Road, and in Wrightsville Beach on Seawater Lane next to the UNCW Aqua Lab.

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