County Commissioners Hear About Oyster Power

On August 7th, START’s Chairman, Sandy Gilbert, gave the Manatee County Commission an update on the Gulf Coast Oyster Recycle and Renewal (GCORR) Program that has been underway for the past year. Sandy began by explaining that given the County’s extensive investment in infrastructure over the years including replacing 2/3 of the septic systems along Sarasota Bay with sewers and improving the efficiency of their wastewater systems, restoring our oyster and clam populations represent the most cost effective approach to help preserve our coastal waters. That’s because oysters filter from 9 to 50 gallons of water a day removing unwanted nutrients that reduce water quality.

Sandy then explained that START’s GCORR Program has five participating partners including START, the Manatee County Parks and Recreation Department, the Chiles Group of restaurants (the Beach House, Mar Vista and The Sandbar), the Gulf Shellfish Institute and the Florida IFAS Program. The program is overseen by START’s Project Manager, Mary Anne Bowie and involves the following process:

The Chiles Group staff collects oyster shells from diners at their three restaurants and keeps them in 64-gallon storage bins

Chiles group volunteers empty the bins once or twice a week depending on the supply into a trailer and transport the shells to a storage and curing area at Perico Preserve

The County staff then:

Oversees the curing and storage process at Perico Preserve

Hosts volunteer events where the shells are placed in bags, mats or oyster cakes

Transports the bagged shells to Robinson’s Preserve where they are placed in the water to form the base for new oyster habitat

The Gulf Shellfish Institute monitors the development of the new oyster reef

After a full year of operation, Sandy reported some exciting results:

The Chiles Group of restaurants produced over 26 tons of “live” shell for new oyster habitat

That’s 26 tons of shell that did not needlessly go into the County’s landfills

That’s also 26 tons of fossil shell that was not paid for or dug up out east

The “Live” shell from restaurants produced 23% more new oyster spat than the traditionally used fossil shells

The program has been so successful that other local restaurants have asked to join the GCORR Partnership. To handle the increased volume of shell, START contracted with Waste Pro to provide professional pickup service to transport the shell to the County storage area at Perico Preserve. Based on the initial response, START expects to increase the GCORR Partnership to at least ten restaurants by the end of the year. At the ten-restaurant level, the 26-ton yield from this year’s effort is projected to grow to 85 tons in 2019. That’s more shell for new oyster reefs and much less shell ending up in landfills or being dug up in the middle of the state.

As you would expect, the Commissioners were very complimentary about START’s effort to bring all the different GCORR Partners together to achieve such outstanding results for our coastal environment and urged START to move forward with the expansion of the program for 2019.

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