Coastal Review Online: Shells from Outer Banks restaurants, roasts become oyster reef off Hyde County

Oyster shells headed to the reef. [photo courtesy N.C. Coastal Federation]

The North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Restaurant to Reef Oyster Shell Recycling program, which uses oyster shells collected from dining establishments to create new habitats for fish and shellfish, is up and running.

The federation recently built its first oyster reef using only recycled oyster shells from Outer Banks restaurants, oyster roasts and volunteers, kicking off the program.

The federation announced Thursday the two-acre reef built in Wysocking Bay in Hyde County — a project done in partnership with area oystermen and the state Division of Marine Fisheries — is the first of many projects the group will facilitate through the program.

As part of the program, volunteers collect discarded shells that are then used by the federation and other partners to build and restore oyster reefs.

“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 federation Coastal Specialist Leslie Vegas.

Oyster shell, when used for reef building, can cost about $3 per bushel. Because it is illegal to dump the shells in landfills, this program provides a way for people and businesses to support a healthy coastal environment while reducing the need to purchase material for restoration work.

Over the last two years, volunteers have collected shell from 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 the material to drop-off points in Dare County.

“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,” said Dan Lewis, former owner of Coastal Provisions, now the Shuck Truck in Duck.

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

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

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