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Scientists Recycle Oyster Shells to Aid Chesapeake Bay

The Oyster Recovery Program plants more than two billion baby oysters in state protected waters.
The Oyster Recovery Program plants more than two billion baby oysters in state protected waters.

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This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Recycling programs usually give new life to materials like paper, metal, plastic and glass. But a program in the eastern United States is recycling shellfish to help the Chesapeake Bay.

Oysters are filter feeders which means they help clean the water. At the same time, generation upon generation of oysters form reefs. These structures provide homes for fish and crabs.

Oysters are a Chesapeake tradition. And they are good for the bay. But environmental damage and too much harvesting have cut the oyster population of the Chesapeake.

An organization called the Oyster Recovery Partnership started the recycling program earlier this year. Baby oysters need to attach themselves to a shell or other hard surface as they grow. Scientists are using recycled shells as part of an oyster reproduction program.

More than fifty restaurants, seafood dealers and other businesses have joined the Oyster Shell Recycling Alliance. Two states, Maryland and Virginia, are also taking part in the program.

One of the restaurants involved is in Washington, near the White House. Oysters are a specialty at the Old Ebbitt Grill, and manager Christian Guidi says that means lots of shells.

CHRISTIAN GUIDI: "We serve between fifteen hundred and three thousand oysters a day, and that obviously does create a lot of waste."

But the restaurant no longer throws away all those shells. The Oyster Recovery Partnership takes them away for recycling.

First the shells get washed. Then they go to the Center for Environmental Science at the University of Maryland for further processing.

The shells are placed in tanks with hundreds of millions of oyster larvae. This way, the baby oysters can be raised until they have grown big enough to be moved to the Chesapeake.

This year, the Oyster Recovery Partnership helped produce and plant more than four hundred fifty million baby oysters in the bay.

Don Meritt heads the oyster recovery program at the University of Maryland. He says the goal is not just to increase the oyster population.

DON MERITT: "Our real goal here is to try to restore healthy oysters to the Chesapeake Bay so that we can help restore a healthy Chesapeake Bay. Not just a healthy oyster population, but a healthy bay."

Mr. Meritt says it will take many years of work before the Chesapeake Bay has a good supply of oysters again.

DON MERITT: "We did not get to this crisis in a few years and we are not going to get out of it in a few years. It is going to take a concerted effort over a long period of time."

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson and Elizabeth Lee. You can find all of our programs with transcripts and MP3s at I'm Bob Doughty.