Tampa Bay program boasts 50,000 recycled oyster shells


Communications Manager, Tampa Bay Watch

Tampa Bay Watch launched an Oyster Shell Recycling Program in 2022 by partnering with local restaurants in the Tampa Bay area. The pilot year was a success in that nearly 50,000 pounds of shells were recycled.

Recycled shell is delivered to a depository to cure for a minimum of three months to ensure that no non-native organisms or disease is introduced to Tampa Bay waters.

The waste oyster shell is used to create Vertical Oyster Gardens (VOGs) which are suspended from docks to create a hard substrate to which juvenile oysters can attach.

The shells will also create oyster shell bars to restore lost habitat systems to the bay, prevent further erosion of the shoreline, and improve water quality through natural biological filtration.

The Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) is an organism of critical importance in estuaries throughout coastal U.S.

Photo Courtesy of Tampa Bay Watch – Waste oyster shells are used to create Vertical Oyster Gardens suspended from docks to create a hard substrate where juvenile oysters can attach and create oyster shell bars to restore lost habitat systems, prevent further erosion of the shoreline, and improve water quality.

Oysters serve a number of beneficial ecological functions from shoreline stabilization to providing habitat for a number of commercially and recreationally important fish species.

Oysters are vital for the overall health of Florida’s estuaries. As a filter feeder, an adult oyster is capable of filtering up to two gallons of water per hour. With healthy populations that can number in the thousands or more, oyster reefs can have a profound effect on water quality.

Oyster shell is an important tool used to help increase available substrate for future oyster populations. In the past, when oyster shell was more readily available, it was used to fill shell bags and then installed in oyster reef projects throughout the bay.

This shell has become increasingly difficult to obtain for large-scale projects. Much of the shell is being deposited in landfills or being shipped out of the region. It is the desire of Tampa Bay Watch to capture the shell before it is shipped out of the region or destined for any landfills.

By implementing a large-scale oyster shell recycling program, the organization hopes to interrupt this process and deploy the oyster shell back into the bay using a number of different methods which will result in an increase in available oyster habitat and exponentially increase oyster populations.

In January 2023, Crabby Bill’s St. Pete Beach and Crabby Bill’s Indian Rocks Beach joined the program, so Tampa Bay Watch hopes to double the results of the oyster shell recycling program this year.

A special thanks to the sponsors of the Oyster Shell Recycling Program: Neptune Flood Insurance and Duke Energy Foundation.●

What is Tampa Bay Watch?

Founded in 1993, Tampa Bay Watch is dedicated exclusively to the stewardship and restoration of the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary encompassing more than 400 square miles of open water and 2,300 square miles of highly developed watershed. Tampa Bay Watch involves more than 10,000 youth and adult volunteers each year in hands-on habitat restoration projects.