Grace Chow sees firsthand the piles of oyster shells that consumers cast aside at the Hard Rock Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “The buffet on a slow day will shuck 500 oysters, and on a busy day, 1,200,” says Chow, the vice president of food and beverages. What happens to the discarded oyster shells at her restaurant is part of a seafood circle of life. Those empty shells will be returned to the water to help establish new oyster colonies.
In Atlantic City, the state picks up the cast-off oyster shells and trucks them to a research station. Workers spread the shells out to dry for at least six months, during which time any meat or foreign substances stuck on the shells decay or bake off. Dry, clean shells get piled onto a barge that sets off into the Mullica River. High-pressure hoses are used to blast the 10-foot piles of shells into the water.
Back in the river, free-floating baby oysters called spat will hop on board the oyster shells. The spat attach themselves to the calcium-rich shell remains and begin to grow, forming new oyster colonies. Old shells are the perfect place to cultivate new oyster growth.
In the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28, God tasks Adam and Eve with caring for His creation: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the Earth.’”
With fun names like “Shuck it for Nantucket” and “Shuck, Don’t Chuck,” oyster-saving programs are growing in popularity around the world. “You have the benefit not only of ecological restoration, but [the programs have] kept 65 tons of shells out of landfills,” says Scott Stueber, a fisheries biologist.
When it’s not feasible to return discarded shells to water, there are other creative ways to recycle them. SeaWool is yarn and fabric made from recycled oyster shells. Crushed shells in chicken feed help hens lay hard-shelled eggs. The calcium and other minerals in the shells make a natural fertilizer for soil. And believe it or not, crumbled oyster shells are as hard as concrete. Literally. Tabby concrete is a mixture of crushed oyster shells, sand, lime, and water. It’s a building material that has been around for hundreds of years. Tabby concrete is easy to use, inexpensive, and impressively strong.