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Oysters are our world

Oysters are a cultural cornerstone in Louisiana — they’re tasty, they’re beautiful, and they bring people together. Louisiana oysters’ flavor is equally at home in fine-dining establishments and the laissez-faire po-boy shop, and they have a starring role in some of the region’s signature dishes: oysters Rockefeller, oyster dressing, and seafood gumbo.  

But did you know that these modest mollusks also help protect our coastline? 

Oysters even make an appearance in Louisiana’s Master Plan as a programmatic consideration. Uniquely, they are both a resource to be restored and a restoration contributor. Vast barrier oyster reefs once shielded large swaths of coastal Louisiana from the onslaught of elements coming from the Gulf of Mexico. Sadly, about 85 percent of these reefs are now gone — a result of multiple factors including overharvesting, pollution, disease, and altered hydrology.  


Oysters are a valued resource for our economy, supporting a commercial fishery that produces one-third of the nation’s supply, and feeding our local seafood markets and restaurants. The presence of oysters in the water brings an additional set of benefits to the ecosystem. Oysters filter and clarify water, serve as a food source for fish, crabs, and birds, and when they grow as reefs, their complex structure provides valuable habitat for various creatures of the estuary. When it comes to protecting our coast, these porous, intertidal reefs form a natural infrastructure as good as any coastal engineering design. They dissipate wave energy, and because they are living, they can even self-repair and grow in three dimensions to keep pace with environmental changes like sea level rise. 


These living shorelines exist because oysters are a gregarious breed — they tend to settle and grow on top of one another, attached by a cement-like secretion. Baby oysters (larvae) swim freely in the water column, where they seek a hard surface to settle on.


But you’ve spent time in our coastal waters, you know that hard surfaces like rocks are in short supply. So oysters preferred hard surface is the shells of other oysters — living or dead. That’s where the CRCL’s Oyster Shell Recycling Program comes in.    


Restaurants in the New Orleans area have the opportunity to give back to the coast – literally. The CRCL partners with 19 restaurants to coordinate collection of their discarded oyster shell through a third-party recycler. Restaurants select the volume and frequency of collection that they need, pay a discounted service fee (the CRCL subsidizes the full cost with grant funding), and are then featured in our Restaurant Guide, on our website, and at promotional events. The restaurants separate shell from the rest of their waste, and we take care of the rest! The CRCL ensures that all of the shells will be returned to our coastal waters for reef restoration and shoreline protection projects.  


So far, we have collected more than 4,000 tons of shell – that’s over 8 million pounds! Over 1,000 volunteers have rolled up their sleeves to help shovel, bag, and move shells to prepare for reef projects. We have deployed two reefs as well, creating over 3,000 linear feet of living shoreline that is now helping to buffer our coastal marshes from erosion. We’re thrilled to see new oysters growing on our reefs, and we’re carefully monitoring their performance over time to extract lessons that we can apply to new projects.  


There are so many ways to get involved and show your commitment to the coast: patronize our partner restaurants, encourage other restaurants to join, sign up to volunteer, or become a member of the CRCL today. Above all, remember that the coast is our culture, and our culture is the coast — we can’t have one without the other, and giving back can be delicious, so, as we like to say, “Once you shuck ’em, don’t just chuck ’em!” 

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