Our Views: The shell recycling program pays dividends for all _lowres

Oyster recruitment at Mad Island reef after 10 months. (Photos Provided by The Nature Conservancy Louisiana Chapter)

In Louisiana, it’s hard to beat a half-shell for a good cause.

That’s why we applaud the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and its dozen partners among New Orleans restaurants who are saving up oyster shells for a unique recycling project.

Bins of discarded oyster shells are picked up five days a week, at no cost to the restaurants, and taken to a curing site in Buras.

About 800 tons of shells are now awaiting final engineering and design on a project to build an oyster reef along a shoreline of Lake Athanasio in St. Bernard Parish.

Hilary Collis, the coalition’s restoration program director, said the reef-building project is being done in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy, although there are some differences in what the two organizations do. The conservancy has its own reef projects in the area, but they use different techniques. One uses stacks of concrete blocks, while another employs metal cages filled with oyster shells.

Both methods are meant to provide a solid place for young oysters to attach and help protect the marsh shoreline behind it, Seth Blitch, coastal program director for the Nature Conservancy, told The New Orleans Advocate.

The restaurant shells project “will let us look at how bagged shell performs compared to what we’ve already got out there,” Blitch said. “It’s a great way to show that part of the way to keep a reef healthy is to return shells to the reef they were grown on.”

Not to mention have some great meals while doing the right thing in restaurants in the Crescent City.

Whatever the method, the preservation and expansion of reef shoreline is part of Louisiana’s battle against the sea.

In the past five years, the Nature Conservancy has built about 4.5 miles of reef shoreline, primarily in southeast Louisiana and Vermilion Bay.

“LSU is doing the monitoring on it, and it looks like we’re getting some good growth,” Blitch said, adding that it probably will take a few years of study to compare the different oyster reef techniques.

The shell recycling program, which started last year, is offered free to restaurants in the New Orleans area thanks to a $1 million donation from Shell Oil Co. The money is enough to cover another 18 months of collecting shells.

“Prior to this, (shells were) lost to landfills and thrown away,” Collis said.

The 12 restaurants involved in the program are Acme Oyster House in New Orleans and Metairie; the Bourbon House; Redfish Grill; Peche Seafood; Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar; Lüke; Pier 424 Seafood Market; LeBayou; Drago’s in New Orleans and Metairie; and the Royal House.

We congratulate them and the corporate and nonprofit groups involved.