Shell Recycling - Big Gains From Small Things - Planet Ark Environmental Foundation

Shell Recycling - Big Gains From Small Things

By Elise Catterall  May 25th, 2017

Australia's coastline has seen extensive losses in its shellfish reefs, which has many environmental impacts including fewer shellfish. But now dinner plate leftovers may be coming to the rescue.


Australia’s coastline has seen extensive losses in its shellfish reefs, which has many environmental impacts including fewer shellfish. But now your dinner plate leftovers may be coming to the rescue.

Two great recycling initiatives are shaping up to transform reefs along Australia’s east coast and to support marine life and reduce landfill at the same time - and they both involve the recycling of shells.

The initiatives draw on the understanding that mature shells – from oysters, scallops, and mussels – provide the ideal environment to grow young shellfish and that returning used shells to the water helps restore damaged and depleted reef environments. It also helps with erosion control and siltation.

Recycling Initiatives

The first initiative, coordinated by The Nature Conservancy Australia, is focussed on the Victorian coastline near Port Phillip Bay. By collecting shells donated by restaurants and seafood wholesalers in Geelong, Nature Conservancy is working to restore the once abundant shellfish reefs of the area and to resurrect shellfish populations. These depleted reefs and their shellfish populations are a result of historic dredge fishing in the area. After collecting and cleaning the shells, they weather them for around six months, exposing them to wind and sun. They then put them in bulk bags that are placed on the shoreline to produce a new reef, on which young shellfish grow. So far, with the support of Little Creatures Brewery, Mantzaris Fisheries, Wah Wah Gee, and the Geelong Disabled People’s Industries, the initiative has collected 300 cubic meters of discarded shells that would otherwise have gone to landfill.

The second initiative, coordinated by OceanWatch Australia, is also targeting depleted shellfish populations and damaged shorelines, but this time at five river sites around Sydney. In NSW 99% of wild oyster populations are functionally extinct because of pollution, sedimentation, disease, and habitat loss or degradation from coastal development. The program also relies on donations – namely from Sydney’s Star Casino and from oyster farmers in Port Stephens on the NSW mid-north coast. It uses biodegradable coconut fibre bags filled with old oyster shells to line the shore.

Aquaculture program manager of OceanWatch Australia, Andy Myers, explains: “….the high lime content of oyster shells makes them really attractive to baby oysters. When oyster larvae settle on other oysters, when they grow they secrete a natural cement and bind the structures together. When the bag breaks down the structural complexity will still be there for a multitude of marine organisms.”

Approximately eight tonnes of shells are being recycled for this purpose.

A similar program to restore the natural shellfish cycle has been in place in the US for several years now, under the management of the Shell Recycling Alliance (SRA), and now has over 300 restaurants participating in the scheme. The Nature Conservancy Australia’s US counterpart also uses similar techniques.

Positive Action




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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


By Elise Catterall

Elise is a writer, photographer, and naturopath with a passion for nature. She completed a Master of Public Health in 2017 through the University of Sydney. Her photographic work focuses on flowers and plants as a way of celebrating nature. She has been writing for Planet Ark since 2017, sharing positive environment stories, personal environmental experiences and perspectives.

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