by Rick Crawford
As the temperature drops during the Fall and Winter in the Lowcountry, my thoughts turn to warmer weather and days spent at the beach and on the water enjoying the outdoor pursuits I love. However, one positive note to our wet and cold-to-the-bone temperatures during the Winter months is oysters. There is nothing like a good warm fire, being surrounded by friends, preferably with a nice marsh view, enjoying one of nature’s greatest gifts. I imagine everyone has their favorite variety, but I believe that the best oysters on the planet can be found right here in the Lowcountry. We have what are called clusters, so not your typical singles that you find at a raw bar. Clusters are, well, clustered together with multiple oysters bonded together creating a bundle of oysters in a variety of shapes and sizes that have just the right amount of salt that produce a fresh oyster flavor that is as equally unique as they are delicious. However, oysters are not only delectable, they also provide incredibly valuable ecosystem services that enhances our fisheries…if we put them back.
Oysters, like all natural resources, are finite and with demand increasing from a growing population, we have to find ways to regenerate and restore the oysters that are harvested for human consumption. Historically, most oyster shells were simply thrown in the trash, which presents a significant challenge for oysters and why oyster populations are in decline. I currently volunteer with Charleston Waterkeeper who helps organize oyster shell recycling and bagging events in partnership with the DNR’s South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement (S.C.O.R.E.) program.
The S.C.O.R.E. program has various oyster shell recycling locations around Charleston and every few weeks, the recycled oyster shells are bagged and eventually placed on intertidal creeks and river banks to restore our oyster populations. These new oyster reefs are built by the community, which not only bring people together and is a wonderful opportunity to educate the next generation about the importance of conserving resources, but the oysters themselves will filter and clean our waterways, enhance our fisheries by providing habitat for shrimps and crabs, which in turn attracts redfish, speckled sea trout and flounder, as well as prevent our oyster populations from declining.
So, next time you have an oyster roast, don’t forget to put ‘em back by dropping your shells at a recycling location because you will be contributing to cleaner water ways and better fishing and it doesn’t take too many shells to make a positive impact. For example, did you know a single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day? Another example is that Flood Tide Company recently had an oyster roast where three bushels were recycled, which according to SC DNR is enough to plant 10 square feet of new oyster beds!