CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – “Sink Your Shucks,” an oyster recycling program managed by the Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies and the College of Science and Engineering (COSE) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, celebrated its millionth pound of oyster shell rescued from the landfill to be repurposed as productive estuary habitat. To commemorate the occasion, “Sink Your Shucks” organizers, participants and HRI officials gathered at Groomer’s Seafood in downtown Corpus Christi on Aug. 16, to dedicate a new trailer donated by the business to the recycling program.
“We're thrilled to have reached the one-million pound mark," said Gail Sutton, HRI Chief Operating Officer and “Sink Your Shucks” organizer. “This recycling program works because it's simple and you get results quickly. Just eat the oyster, haul the shell, put it in the water and wait for new oysters to grow and thrive – then repeat.”
The oyster recycling program, founded in 2009, was the first in Texas that reclaims oyster shells from restaurants and returns them to our local waters, providing the base structures necessary to form new reefs and habitat for fish, crabs and other organisms. With the help of volunteers, “Sink Your Shucks” has restored about 14 acres of oyster reef in the Copano and Aransas Bays.
“The program started off with a very selfish motivation,” said Brad Lomax, President and CEO of Water Street Market, a restaurant and attraction conglomerate, and one of the program’s founding partners. “I was throwing away 75 tons of oyster shell a year and I thought there had to be something we could do with this. For me, as a seafood operator, it’s the perfect program. It’s taking the waste of a product we use everyday to continue the life cycle of the product itself.”
With the help of business partners like Water Street Market and Groomer’s Seafood, this HRI program makes a big impact with a limited amount of resources. That is why it was devastating when the trailer used to pick up oyster shells from area restaurants was stolen from Groomer’s Seafood in May 2015. Groomer’s Seafood President Rick Groomer said he was stunned by the theft, and after putting out a call on social media for help, the store and its customers decided to donate the funds to buy a new trailer.
“We’ve been in the business for a long time, and as we’ve gotten older, we’ve looked for sustainability projects to invest in,” Groomer said. “When we opened our facility in Corpus Christi, we were introduced to the ‘Sink Your Shucks’ oyster recycling program and it was perfectly up our alley. Oysters are the backbones of our bay system. It’s what keeps it clean. It’s what supports the fish population. We’ve done a million pounds of shell now and it can only get better from here.”
Oyster reefs, once dominant habitats in estuaries worldwide, have experienced greater losses than any other marine habitat. It is estimated that 90 percent of oyster reef habitats have been lost, compared to historic abundance. These reefs are a necessary part of our environment, providing important habitat for fisheries, filtering water and preventing coastal erosion by buffering storm surge and waves that can eat away marsh, sandy beaches and coastal developments such as homes and roads.
The oyster recycling program was founded by Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor in the COSE Department of Life Sciences at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Dr. Paul Montagna, HRI’s Endowed Chair for Ecosystems and Modeling. Today, Pollack runs the program with the assistance of Sutton.