In a culinary twist that Mother Nature herself might applaud, Tampa Bay Watch is dishing out a recipe for redemption – not in the kitchen, but on the shores of Tampa Bay. Say hello to “Shells for Shorelines,” a pioneering program that takes discarded oyster shells from local restaurants and turns them into the secret ingredient for revitalizing the bay’s delicate ecosystem.
Tampa Bay Watch is a nonprofit dedicated to the restoration and stewardship of the marine and wetland environments of the Tampa Bay estuary. Tampa Bay Watch began piloting the “Shells for Shorelines” program in February 2022 with seven local restaurants volunteering to be test sites. So far, the seven restaurants have helped Tampa Bay Watch recycle more than 102,000 pounds of oyster shells.
Here’s how “Shells for Shorelines” works: After customers enjoy their order of fresh oysters, restaurant employees throw the discarded shells in a Tampa Bay Watch bucket instead of the trash. Tampa Bay Watch staff and volunteers go to each participating restaurant and pick up the buckets, transporting them to the nonprofit’s specialized cleaning and curing station at Fort De Soto Park. The cured shells are then used throughout the Tampa Bay estuary.
“The shells that are used in our program have a profound effect on our bay,” said Richard Radigan, Tampa Bay Watch’s Oyster Shell Program Manager. “We use them in a number of our projects, whether it is our living shoreline project or our vertical oyster garden program, and these shells provide substrate for the Eastern oyster to settle on and live their lives. The oysters are critically important for our bay in that they serve as a habitat for our large number of fish and crab species. They help stabilize the shoreline when they create these large reefs, and they also filter the water through their day-to-day lives.”
Participating restaurants include OysterCatchers, Crabby Bill’s St. Pete Beach, Crabby Bill’s Indian Rocks Beach, The Helm Coastal Fare and Provisions, CoCo’s Crush Bar and Grill North Clearwater Beach, The Oyster Bar and The Island Grille and Raw Bar. The program benefits restaurants by providing a simple and sustainable way to keep waste out of landfills and lower their ecological footprint.
“Being part of the “Shells for Shorelines” program has not only been an eye-opening experience for us but also for our staff and customers,” said Josh Cameron, owner and operator of the Oyster Bar. “It’s inspiring to see how a simple act like saving oyster shells can have such a profound impact on the health of Tampa Bay.”
Radigan says the success of the pilot has proven their ability to scale the program. They aim to have 20 restaurants participating by 2026.
The “Shells for Shorelines” program is a collaborative initiative with the Gulf Region Oyster Network and is funded by Duke Energy, Neptune Flood, and a $1.1M grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Restore America’s Estuaries.
For more information about the program, to become a participating restaurant or caterer, or to volunteer with Tampa Bay Watch, email firstname.lastname@example.org.