NCCF Restaurant to Reef program to recycle oyster shells up and running

Published 5:57 pm Thursday, October 1, 2020

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From a tasty supper to the sound, the North Carolina Coastal Federation recently built its first oyster reef entirely from oyster shells collected by local restaurants.

The creation of this reef kicks off the group’s Restaurant to Reef oyster shell recycling program that turns oyster shells collected from dining establishments into new habitat for fish and shellfish. The reef was built in partnership with local oystermen and the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. It is the first of many projects the group will facilitate through the program.

The two-acre reef was built in Wysocking Bay in Hyde County using oyster shells collected and recycled by local Outer Banks restaurants, oyster roasts and volunteers through the Restaurant to Reef program. As part of this program, volunteers collect the discarded shells that are then used by NCCF and other partners to build and restore oyster reefs.

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Oyster shell is a valuable resource in North Carolina. When used for reef building, it often has to be purchased for about $3 per bushel. It is illegal to dump the shells in landfills, so this program provides an avenue for people and businesses to support a healthy coastal environment while reducing the need to purchase material for restoration work.

“The commitment from volunteers and restaurants to ensure that the shells make it back to the water is so impressive. It’s tough work, and the payoff isn’t immediate, so it’s obvious that they care deeply for our coastal environment,” said Leslie Vegas, NCCF coastal specialist.

For the past two years, volunteers have collected shell from five partner restaurants – Blue Water Grill & Raw Bar, Sugar Shack Seafood Market, Coastal Provisions Oyster Bar and Wine Bar Café, Awful Arthur’s Oyster Bar and Mulligan’s — and delivered them to drop-off points in Dare County. Dan Lewis, former owner of Coastal Provisions now the Shuck Truck in the Town of Duck, said, “People are eating more oysters than they used to, and we’re dedicated to getting the shells back in the water to guarantee more oysters to come.”

From 2003 to 2018, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries operated a state-funded oyster shell recycling program that provided 6-15% of the shell needed for restoration projects. The state-run oyster shell recycling program ended in 2018 due to budget cuts and staff reductions.

NCCF created a pilot program to restart oyster shell recycling in the Outer Banks.

For more information about the Restaurant to Reef program or to volunteer to help, contact Leslie Vegas at 252-473-1607 or



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