OUTER BANKS, N.C. — One organization is taking your leftover oysters and giving them a greater purpose.

What You Need To Know

  • Restaurant to Reef program recycles oyster shells from local restaurants

  • Shells help build up existing reefs

  • First recycled reef completed in September 2020

The North Carolina Coastal Federation (NCCF) has partnered with restaurants along the coast to recycle oyster shells. The pilot program was created after the original state funded program lost its funding in 2018.

Leslie Vegas is the North East Coastal Specialist with the North Carolina Coastal federation.  She says the partnership has been a good alternative for restaurants.

“It is illegal to dump oyster shells into landfills, so we didn't want that burden placed on the restaurants. And we felt like helping them to recycle the shells properly was really important” Vegas explains.

The oyster shells are collected from local restaurants by volunteers, left to dry out, and then placed back in the ocean to build up existing oyster reefs. The shells will attract other oysters, provide a habitat for fish, and filter gallons of water for people to use.

Ivy Cage, a junior at Manteo High School, is a dedicated NCCF volunteer and spends her Saturdays picking up bushels of oysters.

Ivy Cage

Cage says, “When you get to see how big the piles are getting and you realize that you're a part of a bigger picture, it really helps to put together kind of the visual of how amazing this is, and it makes me really happy and really proud that I get to be involved in this.”

In September of 2020, the NCCF and the Department of Fisheries created their first fully recycled reef in Wysocking Bay.

Recycled reef at Wysocking Bay

As they continue to collect shells, they encourage the community to get involved.

Public shell drop off points are located at Jockey’s Ridge State Park and many locations in the Outer Banks. For more information on the program, click here.