The White Boot blog
Exploring Old Ideas In Brave New Ways


Prelude to An Oyster Reef

It’s All About the Shell, ‘bout the Shell ... No Trouble!


It's All About the Shell, 'bout the Shell...No Trouble


As the lyric of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay, with its many tributaries ebb and flow in seasonal rhythms of bounty and balance, Virginia Oysters are an anchoring base note resonating health and sustainability on an orchestral scale.

When oysters are seeded and grown throughout our coastal waters they consume algae and remove nitrogen thus improving water quality.  Did you know that one adult oyster cleans 50 gallons of water per day? Oyster reefs provide shoreline protection that can prevent coastline erosion from storm surges while preserving important habitat areas that provide refuge for other aquatic species.


From seed to table, many individuals, businesses and communities are working in harmony to steward Virginia Oysters through shell recycling to help promote the resilience and vibrancy of Virginia's coastal waterways. 

It’s a commonly known practice for watermen operations that provide shucked oysters to their consumers to recycle shells in an effort to perpetuate their oyster beds.  Restaurants are joining the chorus as they collect shells and provide them to local recycling efforts for reef-building projects.

One community-devoted reef building group is Lynnhaven River Now (LRNow), located in Virginia Beach, VA.  In 2007, part of the Lynnhaven River was reopened for oyster harvest after many decades of being closed due to high bacteria levels. With the opening came a celebration of the native Lynnhaven Oyster as many restaurants were again serving the local delicacy.  Initially, when these restaurants shucked the oysters, the shells were going into the trash.  LRNow decided to try to make these shells useful again and upon receiving a grant designed a shell collection program, three month pilot project.  They enlisted seven restaurants, training their staff, providing collection cans and funding shell pick-ups. They also set up two public drop off locations as their members became more aware so that households could also begin recycling their shells. The program continues today, is year ‘round and has engaged 25 restaurants and 5 public drop off locations. Additionally, they collect shells from as many as 20 special events throughout the year noting that in 2016 they collected 3,600 bushels of shell that are not going into the trash and are available to build sanctuary reef and restore their river's native oyster population. 

This spring of 2017, LRNow will build an acre and a half of sanctuary oyster reef in the Eastern Branch of the Lynnhaven River using 20,000 bushels of shells saved from the trash so those shells can do the work they are meant to do: provide habitat for more oysters that will contribute to the cleansing of their waterway. 

In addition to Lynnhaven River Now, checkout Virginia Oyster Trail members, The Nature Conservancy and Chesapeake Bay Foundation as well as the many restaurants, watermen, cultural sites and community groups who recycle their shells. Recycling members identify themselves by a recycling symbol on the top of their trail member pages.  

According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “Oyster shells for restoration are becoming increasingly scarce….On average, each recycled shell can become home to dozens of those baby oysters, called spat. CBF provides the spat-on-shell to its oyster gardeners and plants them in rivers and the Bay to grow and expand oyster reefs.



1. Find out where you can recycle your household oyster shells (be sure to separate the shells from your regular trash and hold them in a vented container to reduce odor while they dry out before you drop them off).

2. Praise the restaurants, festivals and other locations where you enjoy Virginia’s variety of 8 oyster flavors and who are participating in shell recycling efforts across the Commonwealth.

Share your Virginia Oyster experiences with us on the Virginia Oyster Trail Facebook page and join in the chorus to strengthen the resilience and vitality of Virginia’s coastal waters and oyster industry…it’s about the shell!

Written by Sherri Smith, Virginia Oyster Trail with contributing writer, Karen Forget, Lynnhaven River Now, Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Visit the Virginia Oyster Trail Calendar of Events regularly for listings of upcoming activities and events.

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