NCCF kicks off oyster shell recycling program

A barge carries oyster shells to the site of an oyster reef. (N.C. Coastal Federation photo)

OCEAN — A Carteret County-based environmental nonprofit has started an oyster shell recycling program to build oyster reefs.

The N.C. Coastal Federation, based in the Ocean community and dedicated to protecting the coastal environment in North Carolina, announced Sept. 17 the start of its Restaurant to Reef oyster shell recycling program.

According to the federation, it recently built its first oyster reef in Wysocking Bay in Hyde County 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 federation said. “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 2-acre reef was built using shells collected and recycled by local Outer Banks restaurants, oyster roasts and volunteers. As part of the program, volunteers collect the discarded shells.

According to the NCCF, 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,” the federation said. “It’s 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.”

NCCF Coastal Specialist Leslie Vegas said the commitment from volunteers and restaurants to ensure that the shells make it back to the water is impressive.

“It’s tough work, and the payoff isn’t immediate, so it’s obvious that they care deeply for our coastal environment,” Ms. Vegas said.

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 did previously.

 “We’re dedicated to getting the shells back in the water to guarantee more oysters to come,” Mr. Lewis said.

From 2003 to 2018, the DMF 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.

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

Anyone with questions about the Restaurant to Reef Oyster Shell Recycling Program or seeking to volunteer may contact Ms. Vegas by phone at 252-473-1607 or by email at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

As a privately owned web site, we reserve the right to edit or remove comments that contain spam, advertising, vulgarity, threats of violence, racism, anti-Semitism, or personal/abusive/condescending attacks on other users or goading them. The same applies to trolling, the use of multiple aliases, or just generally being a jerk. Enforcement of this policy is at the sole discretion of the site administrators and repeat offenders may be blocked or permanently banned without warning.