The key to green living and sustainability most often lies with grass roots efforts by dedicated individuals with personal vested interests at stake. A situation such as this gave birth to the Shell Recycling Alliance. This group consists of members of the local oyster shucking community with family legacies of care and commitment to the Chesapeake Bay. They recognized that the tons of oyster shells discarded at events where they shucked could serve a useful purpose, and they got together to do something about it.

Oyster shell is a limited natural resource that provides a habitat for new oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. The University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Hatchery uses it for its oyster setting process. This program spawns oysters taken from the wild, creating larvae or spat, which is released into large tanks with cages of oyster shells to set. The newly spawned oysters are fed algae and upon reaching maturity, are returned to the Bay. The Shell Recycling Alliance (SRA) has teamed up with area seafood restaurants throughout Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and Delaware to save oyster shells, which are collected and delivered to the hatchery to be used for setting to replenish the bay oyster population. To date, the SRA has provided around 75,000 bushels of reclaimed oyster shells to the program.

In addition to being a food attraction, oysters play a major role in the health and survival of the Chesapeake Bay, as the filtering capacity of the entire oyster reef community is vital to the Bay’s water quality. By virtue of its algae consumption, an oyster filters water at a rate of up to approximately two gallons an hour. This filtration clarifies the water, allowing bay grasses to receive more sunlight and become more plentiful. As a result, oxygen levels in the water increase, which in turn, leads to reduced wave energy and shoreline loss. The end product is a healthy habitat for aquatic life.

Thanks to the actions of concerned people committed to the protection of our waters, oyster replenishment programs now operate not only in the Mid-Atlantic States, but also up and down the east coast. A small green movement has led to a large green revolution. A great way to get involved is to support the restaurants that participate in this program. A list of participating businesses can be found at Let’s live green, be green.

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