In the spring of 2014, with funding from the Nantucket Shellfish Association, the Natural Resources Department established a shell recycling program due to its high priority in the Shellfish Management Plan (October 2012). This program encourages local restaurants, raw bars, and the community to save and recycle oyster and clam shells in order to support oyster restoration in Nantucket waters. Shells are collected, weighed, and stored at the Department of Public Works to cure for at least one year before they can be put back into the water. Cured oyster shells or "cultch" serves as the base layer or foundation for an oyster reef. Shell is placed back in the water and baby oysters (spat) are chemically attracted to oyster shell and settle on it to complete their life cycle.
In 2018, Nantucket’s first oyster restoration project was established. It will serve as a foundation for a living classroom that will be monitored for water quality, species biodiversity, and self-sustaining growth. Oysters will not be harvested for commercial purpose, but to help enhance and restore the wild population here on Nantucket. This program focuses on reducing waste, recycles a valuable resource, and provides an opportunity for the community to participate in a sustainable movement.
Since the start of the program, over 200,000 pounds of oyster and quahog shell has been recycled from local restaurants, raw bars, and events.
Importance of Shell Recycling
- Oyster shell is the preferable substrate for oyster recruitment, settlement, and retention.
- Oyster shell is a limited resource due to years of disposing it in landfills, using it for infrastructure, and not returning it to the water has resulted in a world-wide low supply.
- On Nantucket, we have no (historic) supply of oyster shell to dredge up shell and it is costly to import it.
- Establishing this program fulfilled a high priority in Nantucket’s Shellfish Management Plan.
- Sustainable program that reduces waste and involves participation from the local community.
How Shell Recycling Works on Nantucket
Once oysters are consumed, the shells are collected by the Natural Resources Department from local restaurants and raw bars. The shells are weighed and stored at the Department of Public Works for one year to cure in the open environment. This allows any tissue to decompose and kills and hitch hikers (non-native species) or parasites that may be attached to the shell. This is used for restoration in Nantucket waters.
Like many other towns around the world, Nantucket does not have a significant wild oyster population. Therefore, oyster spat is produced by the Brant Point Shellfish Hatchery and remotely set on recycled shell to help increase oyster reef establishment.
Participating restaurants and raw bars
This page was last updated on February 13, 2020.