Food | Nature

Shelling Out Sustainability: Oyster Season in the Lowcountry

It’s oyster season in the Lowcountry! To celebrate one of our favorite times of the year we’re taking a closer look at these tasty bivalves and how beneficial they are to the waterways they occupy. We’ll also let you know how you can help ensure oysters continue to thrive in your local waterways by recycling the used shells from your own backyard oyster roasts.   

Eco-warriors of the estuaries
Beyond their culinary appeal, oysters play a vital role in the health of the Lowcountry’s ecosystem. Oyster reefs act as natural water filters, improving water quality by removing impurities. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day! Additionally, reefs provide essential habitat for about 120 marine species such as flounder, shrimp, and blue crab—contributing to the area’s great biodiversity. As reefs grow, they act as protection for shoreline erosion against wave energy from storms and boat traffic. Unfortunately, the local wild oyster population is declining for a variety of reasons. What can you do to help? 

Recycle those shells!
According to the Coastal Conservation League, only about 10% of our local oyster shells gets recycled back into our local waterways. Why is this important? Our local oysters are “substrate limited”, which means that their growth is limited by how much oyster shell is available for them to build upon in the marshes. Spat (baby oysters) require a hard surface such as old shells to attach to in order to avoid being smothered by pluff mud. 

Do your part—but do it right, please!
Recycling oyster shells from your backyard oyster roast is a great way to aid in keeping local oyster beds alive and thriving. But don’t just toss them into the creek yourself! Not only is this illegal, but dumping your used shells into local waterways can harm existing oysters by spreading diseases. Instead, collect your shells, being careful not to include trash, and take them to a SCDNR oyster shell recycling location.  From here, shells are quarantined and then placed where biologists find they will be most beneficial for our shorelines and building future oyster beds. 

Oysters are not only a culinary delight but are also one of the most important pieces of our local ecosystem. You can help keep the oyster population flourishing in the Lowcountry by recycling your shells. So go ahead and get a bushel or two of local clusters, roast them up with a group of friends and family, and do a little good at the same time by recycling the shells when you’re done!