skip to main content | skip to footer
North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Oyster Shell Recycling

Marine Fisheries

oyster shells
Artificial Reefs Oyster Shell
Recycling
Oyster Sanctuaries Shellfish
Rehabilitation

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries provides drop off sites where citizens and businesses can donate oyster shells. Donated shells are recycled by adding them back into North Carolina waters where they will catch baby oysters which grow into new oysters and create shell bottom habitat.

Collected shells are used by the Shellfish Rebilitation Program in construction of oyster reefs.

Since the inception of the program in the fall of 2003, there have been 211,255 bushels of recycled shells have been donated to the program.

Oysters and Oyster Shells

Baby oysters begin life as free-floating organisms but quickly settle to the bottom attaching themselves to hard surfaces. That's why oysters grow in clumps on pilings and concrete, but their favorite, most productive place to grow is on other shells. A mound of oyster shells placed in brackish water with good tidal flow will quickly become colonized by a multitude of marine organisms, including oysters. This mound, also called an oyster reef, serves a number of purposes:
  1. Oyster reefs grow oysters. Baby oysters that settle on the shell will grow and may eventually be harvested, sold, and consumed. Those oysters that aren't harvested serve a valuable role as a brood stock to produce baby oysters.
  2. Oyster reefs provide habitat. More organisms than just oysters live and depend on oyster reefs. Other beneficial organisms, such as algae, worms, barnacles, crabs, juvenile and adult fish, including popular sport fish, forage and hide among the oyster shells on a reef. Small fish attract a diversity of larger fish and before you know it, you have a veritable metropolis of critters congregating at your reef — and all you did was put the shells over in the right spot.
  3. Oyster reefs improve water quality. Oysters are filter feeders, collecting plankton and detritus suspended in the water for their food. An overabundance of plankton (a mix of microscopic animals, algae, and bacteria) and detritus (decomposing organic material) can lead to low dissolved oxygen and fish kills. Each individual oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, helping to maintain clean water. The larger our oyster population is, the cleaner our water can be.
Bushels of donated shell collected by the
Oyster Shell Recycling Program 2003/04 to 2013/14.
Year is from July through June

Year

Total Bushels

2003-04

817.64

2004-05

2,139.29

2005-06

22,096.72

2006-07

23,713.52

2007-08

25,814.54

2008-09

26,931.08

2009-10

20,663.46

2010-11

24,931.52

2011-12

27,384.06

2012-13

27,345.00

2013-14

9,419.00

Total

211,255.41

On July 1, 2013, funding for the Oyster Shell Recycling Program was discontinued and the program became defunct. However, some recycling responsibilities have been absorbed by other programs within the Division of Marine Fisheries’ Habitat and Enhancement and Fisheries Management staff. Historically high-yield recycling sites have been maintained, while low yield collections sites have been closed. Convenient drop-off locations, with containers and bins at recycling centers, are provided for individuals who may have 20 bushels or less from small oyster roasts. Collections of oyster shells from larger oyster roasts (i.e., church, community, civic organizations and festivals) require use of trailers or dump trucks. Staff coordinates pickup and delivery of shells to stockpile sites, enlisting help from solid waste disposal facilities and private waste companies.

Use this map to find your nearest oyster shell recycling location.

N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

NC logo

38337 FEEDBACK

Your input is valuable to us. Please send us your feedback.

What type of feedback would you like to send?*

Ask a Question Report a Problem Have a Concern Make a Comment

(If you would like us to respond please include your phone or e-mail.)

Your Question has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Problem has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Concern has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

Your Comment has been sent. Thank you!

An internal server error prevented Your Question from being sent.
Please try again later, or call Toll-Free (877) 623-6748 for immediate assistance.

Please complete all highlighted items

*If you are a DENR employee with an I.T. issue, please submit a DOTS ticket.