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On Jan. 31, S.C. Department of Natural Resources employees did the dirty work of sorting through trash to load up on treasures-oyster shells!

Boone Hall Plantation hosted the 22nd Annual Lowcountry Oyster Festival on Jan. 30, where 65,000 pounds of the delicacies were devoured at the world's largest oyster roast. The next day, S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employees sorted through a lot of trash in order to gather the shells, which will be used by the DNR's Oyster Recycling and Restoration Programs. Several DNR employees volunteered to help with this effort, which resulted in collecting 680 bushels of shells for the programs.

"I'm very pleased that we are involved with the DNR and that they are coming out to get the oysters after the festival," said Kathy Britzius, director of the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association, who has coordinated the Lowcountry Oyster Festival for 19 years. "A lot of people call us asking for the shells or inquiring what we do with the shells after the roast. We are glad to donate them to the DNR where they will be recycled and can benefit the environment."

DNR biologists believe it is important to obtain the shells from the festival because of the large quantity that is available. "We are excited to be working with the Lowcountry Oyster Festival," said Andy Jennings, DNR biologist who coordinates the Oyster Recycling Project. "Because it's the largest oyster roast in the world, this is a great chance to intercept a lot of clean oyster shell at one time." Jennings will use some of these shells to plant Public Shellfish Grounds in the Charleston area.

So far during the 2004-2005 oyster season, South Carolina citizens have voluntarily recycled 4,673 bushels of shell. Residents in Charleston County have been increasing the amount of shell recycled every year for the last four years. So far this year, Charleston County has recycled almost 3,000 bushels of oyster shells, and the ones from this weekend's public oyster roast will significantly contribute to that number.

Although South Carolina's commercial shellfish harvest has remained stable over the past three decades, the closing of oyster canneries and most shucking houses during this period has resulted in a shortage of shucked oyster shell needed to cultivate oyster beds. The increasing popularity of backyard oyster roasts and retail sales have contributed to this shortage in that shells from individual oyster roasts are not usually returned to the water. More often than not, the shell ends up in driveways and landfills.

It is beneficial to "put back" the oyster shells because they provide a hard surface to which juvenile oysters will attach and grow. Basically, juvenile oysters like to land and grow on other oyster shells.
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