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SCDNR seeks to expand oyster shell collection operation in Horry & Georgetown counties

Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 11:18 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - The old adage is that eating oysters brings you good luck heading into the new year, so there may be plenty more roasts out along the Grand Strand this weekend.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is hoping people won’t be “shellfish,” and will share some of that luck with the environment. They also hope to make sure those shells don’t go to waste.

“It does go a long way, every bushel counts,” said Michael Hodges, a wildlife biologist with SCDNR.

Hodges has counted plenty of bushels of oyster shells in his day.

As 2021 comes to a close, he’s happy to report SCDNR’s oyster shell recycling collection has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

“85% of the oyster reefs have been lost nationwide, or worldwide, making them the most severely impacted marine habitat on the planet,” said Hodges. “We don’t want that to happen here.”

Hodges says DNR tries to plant 50,000 bushels of oyster shells per year to keep the ecosystem strong.

Whatever they don’t collect, they wind up having to purchase.

He explained the shells provide a surface for baby oysters to attach and grow on, replenishing the population, while also helping with water quality.

Even with DNR’s efforts, many of the shells that come out of South Carolina every year never make it back into the water.

“We estimate there’s about 300,000 bushels of shell consumed within our state every year,” said Hodges. “Even on our best year, which was about 35,000, that’s only 10-12% of that.”

So what’s SCDNR’s New Year’s resolution? To get more Grand Strand restaurants more involved.

Hodges says they have a few that regularly drive their shells to the drop off-sites, but he’d like to make it easier for them to participate.

In the new year, DNR plans to meet with local governments, representatives from Coastal Carolina University and environmental activist groups to establish a co-op to directly pick up shells from restaurants in Horry and Georgetown counties with oysters on the menu.

“We’re talking 40-50 restaurants that we’re hoping to pick that shell up more routinely, that way we’ll get that shell back out on the water,” said Hodges.

Hodges plans to meet about the co-op in March, so in the meantime, he’s asking everyone to remember to recycle their shells while they’re recycling their Christmas trees.

“Hopefully people can help us to make our fishery more sustainable,” said Hodges.

DNR has 30 of these drop-off sites throughout the state.

Click here for more information.

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