While many people have begun to reduce, reuse and recycle in efforts to “go green,” residents in Bryan County now have the opportunity to recycle and reuse a sometimes overlooked item.
As part of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Georgia, the Coastal Habitat Committee (CHC) is working with the new CCA Richmond Hill Chapter to collect and recycle oyster shells and reuse them to build up and enhance oyster beds off the coast of Georgia.
Local fisherman Capt. Bob Barnette is a member of the CHC and is helping with the effort in Bryan County, where he and others hope to enhance oyster habitats in the South Bryan area. Other areas the group is concentrating on are the north end of Liberty County and the south end of Chatham County, he said.
Barnette said he started working with the project in June after seeing how well similar efforts worked on the coast of Alabama and Mississippi.
“Just talking to some of the people running the project over there and them telling me what it can do for the environment, and being a fisherman, I see what it can do for us,” he said.
In addition to helping rebuild the oyster habitats, recycling their shells helps keep them out of landfills, which keep growing by “leaps and bounds,” he said.
Barnette said it is important to keep oyster habitats alive because they are an asset to the environment and coastal waters. Not only do oyster beds help prevent erosion, they also help with pollution.
“One live (adult) oyster filters 50 gallons of water a day, so they are a great asset as far as pollution and helping out our environment — besides the fact that they’re good to eat,” he said.
Barnette noted oyster habitats are also important for the future of fisheries.
“If we don’t do something now, our children’s children will not have the fisheries that we have,” he said.
Barnette said Georgia was the No. 1 oyster-producing state in the nation in the 1900s, but over time, that production has significantly decreased.
“At this point in time, we’re probably not even on the list,” he said. “From the amount of oysters we had then, we have lost about 80-90 percent of those due to pollution, overfishing and bacteria.”
Though Barnette and other CHC members won’t put out the bagged shells until April when oysters start reproducing, he said there is still be plenty of work to do in the meantime.
He said once shells are collected, they must be left out to dry for about six weeks, which kills any bacteria on the shells and foreign predators that may cause harm to area waters.
After drying, the shells are bagged with other materials like concrete rubble and bundles of oak limbs. The bags are placed in coastal waters where oysters would normally grow so new oysters have somewhere to attach.
Once an oyster attaches to its habitat, that is where it stays, he said, adding that an oyster can grow to harvesting size within seven to 10 months.
There is currently one collection site in Bryan County at Sterling Creek off of Highway 144. Another collection site is at the boat ramp off Islands Expressway in Savannah, and organizers are hoping to have a collection site established soon in Liberty County.
Barnette said any oyster shells from private oyster roasts, restaurants or other events are welcomed. Shells will be collected until “people quit bringing them,” he said.
Barnette said some of the post-collection work can be labor intensive, and the CCA welcomes help from volunteers. The group is also taking suggestions for places in need of rebuilt oyster habitats.
Anyone with recommendations or interested in volunteering should contact Bob Barnette at 658-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at 658-5879. For more information on the CCA of Georgia, visit www.ccaga.org.