Hunting Island Partners With SCDNR to Restore Oyster Reefs

Posted 7/19/2012 9:19:00 AM
When the temperatures drop during the fall and football season finally rolls around, one thing I always look forward to is a good backyard oyster roast. There aren't many finer ways to spend an evening down South than by sitting outside with a good group of friends and a bushel of steamed oysters.

Until last month, I never gave much consideration as to where the countless oyster shells carelessly tossed aside end up. Most of the time, they’re probably thrown out in the trash, but thanks to efforts by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources thousands of bags of discarded shells are recycled each year and placed back along the South Carolina coast.

This effort is known as the SCORE program, which stands for South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement. Oysters are a keystone species, and this effort by DNR helps to maintain the habitat’s stability and health. Throughout the year, DNR collects recycled oysters from restaurants, resorts and other establishments throughout South Carolina. These shells put into plastic, mesh bags (don’t worry; these bags integrate into the reef overtime and don’t cause any damage to the habitat) and are placed by the thousands in designated locations from Horry to Beaufort counties.

One of DNR’s designated SCORE program locations is at our very own Hunting Island State Park. Volunteers, like the Friends of Hunting Island group, flock to the park year round to fill volunteer positions, making it an ideal location for the program.

In June, I joined a group of volunteers to move more than 600 bags of recycled shells down through the salt marsh and onto the shore. The project is in its sixth year at the park, and the reefs built by previous groups stretch for more than a hundred yards along the shoreline. The process is arduous as the bags aren't easy to lift, the summer heat is brutal and the bags take at least an hour to move. However, the volunteers who came out were real troopers and made it look like a walk in the park.

Why is oyster recycling and reef restoration important? Obviously, recycling increases the number of oyster clusters that can be harvested, but if you love seafood you should know that 85 percent of seafood you eat utilizes an oyster reef at some point.

While the SCORE program reaps tasty benefits for seafood enthusiasts such as myself, the advantages of this operation reach farther than just ensuring this coastal delicacy is available for consumption. Oyster restoration also yields quite a few ecological benefits as well. Oyster reefs play a key role in helping to prevent erosion and also aid in keeping our coastal waters clean.

One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, including runoff and toxins from nearby roadways. Think of what sort of cleanup an entire reef can do!

SCDNR has numerous ways for you to help volunteer with the SCORE effort, and if you’re interested you can check out their site for volunteer information here. Instead of tossing out empty shells the next time you're at an oyster roast, instead opt to take them to the nearest oyster recycling center.