The shell game that makes new reefs out of old oysters

The next time you order oysters at your favorite restaurant, think about where all those used oyster shells end up.

The marine science department at Coastal Carolina University is putting the word out to local restaurants to not throw those shells away.

CCU needs 17 tons of the shells to restore reefs off six Grand Strand inlets: North, Murrells, Withers, Singleton, White Point and Hog.

It's well known that oysters need something solid in the ocean to cling to and one thing that seems to work well for that is a reef made up of other oyster shells.

So CCU marine science professor Dr. Keith Walters, working with the SC Department of Natural Resources, wants Grand Strand restaurants to separate their used oyster shells from their other trash, so the shells can be collected for free and recycled, to be made into reefs.

Walters says it'll help keep the oyster population from declining, as it has in other parts of the country.

"Right now South Carolina oyster reefs and oyster populations are in pretty good shape, but we want to make sure that they stay that way," Walters said.

Walters says oysters are also good at filtering water, so more oyster reefs should help clean up some of the dirty storm water runoff near the inlets where the reefs will be built.

"We're hoping that the oysters might help and improve the water quality in these systems."

Walters says cleaner water may prevent some of the fish kills that have become more common along the Grand Strand (

Shell recycling can also be a boon to restaurants, like Drunken Jack's in Murrells Inlet, which has been recycling its oyster shells for years.

The restaurant's owner says throwing shells away isn't just bad for the environment, it's costly for restaurants.

"(Waste companies) charge you by weight when they pick up your garbage and if it's thrown in the garbage, it's going to be an expense," said Drunken Jack's president Al Hitchcock.

Walters says these programs tend to lose steam after awhile, but he wants to make sure this effort lasts well into the future so the reefs and the oysters can be here for a long time to come.