Outstanding School Program Award:
The North Carolina Oyster Shell Recycling Program’s was created by NC Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) to
recover post consumer oyster shells and utilize them to create or enhance oyster habitat through the use of shells for larvae
attachment in clutch planting, hatcheries, and sanctuaries. We like to call it, “Trash to Treasure”. Today the DMF lists oysters as
a “species of concern”.
The program concept is to provide a means for the recovery of post consumer oyster shells that are being lost to
driveways, landscaping, construction, agricultural, and landfills through public education and involvement. The program
consists of four components. First we start by providing convenient drop-off sites for individuals and small oyster roasts (10 – 20
bushels) with the use of containers and bins at recycling centers, convenient locations (seafood markets, stores, parks, schools,
etc.) and landfills (county & private) to recycle their shells. Second, we provide service for pick-up of shells from larger oyster
roasts (community, civic organizations, festivals) utilizing trailers or dump trucks. Third, thru public education and involvement,
we must educate the public to the importance of recycling clean shell. And lastly, coordination of restaurants and oyster bars with
county health departments and solid waste recycling centers for shell collection and storage.
Once the shells are collected they are “seasoned” from 30 days up to a year, meaning the shells have aged and are free of
any type of contamination. The shells are then placed back into NC’s coastal waters to create new oyster reefs.
Through involvement, volunteers become a significant part to the success of this volunteer-base program. The program
has over 70 volunteers and connecting with schools, our future sustainability generation is very important. This project inspires
students to think about how the recycling of the shells can in turn, produce more oysters for NC to enjoy in the future. It is
important to have them involved, it creates a sense of pride in their area of NC and to be good stewards in their community.
To do this, the NC Oyster Shell Recycling Program has partnered with Ashley High School’s Environmental Club in
Wilmington, NC. Teacher, Bryan Bishop and his high school students (grades 9-12) maintain public drop off oyster shell
recycling sites in their local area around Carolina Beach. The students, parents, and Mr. Bishop collects the discarded shells
from two major local seafood markets, (Blackburn’s and Alford’s) and two restaurants (Deckhouse and Michael’s). The sites are
set-up with the program’s yellow 32-gallon logo painted trashcans. They then haul the cans with shells to one of DMF’s
stockpile locations nearby. One bushel of oyster shells weighs about 55 lbs and each trashcan holds 3.75 bushels (206.3 lbs.).
Moving these cans into trailers and dumping is a lot of hard work. The school came onboard in December of 2006 and over that
time has collected 228 bushels for the recycling program. The school’s club has contributed significantly to the success in the
volume of shells collected in New Hanover County.
Mr. Bishop includes student guides and lesson plans to educate how the students can become involved in their local
community and why it’s important to recycle. Staff members of the North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF, non-profit
organization that involves citizens in coastal managing issues) have combined efforts with Mr. Bishop to design and implement a
secondary-level oyster education curricula for their use and future classrooms. Curricula include oyster dissections, historical
importance and the importance of oysters to the wetland environment. Water quality, food resources and fish habitat topics were
incorporated into lesson plans with games, service projects and community outreach. In 2006, the Ashley High School
Environmental Club was awarded the NCCF’s Pelican Award: Environmental Education; for their hard work and dedication in
assisting the NC Oyster Shell Recycling Program. The club attended the National Student Summit on Oceans and Coast in
Washington, D.C. and reported on their efforts in oyster restoration. The school was also a part of the Wetland Protection Fair at
Halyburton Nature Park in November 2007.
The Ashley High School Environmental Club also started the first school-wide paper-recycling program in New Hanover
County. After receiving a grant from the local Progress Energy Company in 2006, Mr. Bishop and his Earth Science classes
began a large-scale paper recycling operation. Permission to change the school’s waste disposal contract was granted with the
help of Mr. Bishop, the former principal Dr. Sherry Broome, two New Hanover County Maintenance Managers and Waste
Management Executives. At this point in 2008, the Exceptional Children Department has taken over to recycle the paper twice a
week. The students in the EC department are proud to help the good cause.
In the fall of 2007, Mr. Bishop and two other teachers applied for another grant from the Greater Chamber of
Wilmington to design and build a nature trail in Veterans Park (community park including high school, middle school,
elementary school, public playground and athletic fields). The Veterans Environmental Nature Trail was chosen to receive the
grant and plans are now in progress to build metal signs that will highlight important environmental issues and how we can
reduce our human impact, reuse our resources and recycle.
Since the inception of the Oyster Shell Recycling Program in the fall of 2003, significant progress has been made due to
public education and awareness, county support, volunteer and restaurant participation, and NC Legislation. DMF first collected
711 bushels in the fall of 2003, to over 35,000 bushels in 2007. This project continues to grow through public awareness, the
number of participating landfills, public recycling centers, and restaurants. It also includes the general public donating their own
oyster shells and assisting as volunteers to help maintain collection sites and service of the shells. By recycling the shells, the
solid waste load on landfills is reduced.
So why recycle? It is important to help oysters cultivate in the waters downstream from civilization. The environment
upstream affects the water that washes downstream and continues to jeopardize the ecosystem with pollutants. Oysters are one of
the most essential species in our estuary because they are great indicators as to the health of the estuary. Oysters are an
important natural water cleaning system! One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, so the larger and healthier
our oyster population, the cleaner the water.
Oysters also provide a source of food to other estuarine animals and to our state’s economy. The reefs they form provide
a habitat for many of our state’s important commercial and recreational finfish and invertebrates. These reefs also provide hook
and line fishing opportunities for the public, which has been getting a lot of coverage and feedback from recreational fishermen.
Recently, the North Carolina Sportsman magazine published an article from interviews with local anglers who acknowledged the
successful catches in the oyster reefs.
Increasing the volume of shells in NC’s waters has a direct affect on improving water quality and providing a natural habitat for
other marine life.
The Oyster Shell Recycling Program’s goal is to get enough oyster shells to create the oyster habitats that NC needs.
Majority of the oysters that are used to build these reefs are purchased from oyster shucking houses. Unfortunately, the
competition of these shells with landscaping, construction, agricultural companies, and other states with similar programs make it
increasing hard for DMF to obtain these shells due to limited funds. That’s where the Oyster Shell Recycling Program comes
into play and why it’s so important to educate the public to recycle.
Program contact info:
NC Division of Marine Fisheries
NC Oyster Shell Recycling Program
Sabrina Varnam, Oyster Shell Recycling Coordinator
PO Box 769, Morehead City, NC 28557
Entrants contact info:
Bryan Bishop, Science Teacher and Environmental Club Sponsor
555 Halyburton Memorial Parkway
Wilmington NC 28412
News & Observer, Jerry Allegood, email@example.com, 252-752-8411
Carteret News & Times, Mike Shutak, firstname.lastname@example.org, 252-726-1795
Wilmington Star News, Gareth McGrath, email@example.com, 910-343-2384