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From New Orleans restaurants to the Louisiana coastline: Environmental group uses oyster shells to build coastal reef

“Oyster reefs are one of the tools in the tool kit that we have to use for coastal restoration”

NEW ORLEANS — A local environmental group is putting the finishing touches on an oyster reef made entirely of recycled shells from New Orleans restaurants as a way to prevent land loss and support wildlife. 

Readers can find the latest project from the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana in the Hackberry Bay about 25 miles from Jean Lafitte in lower Jefferson Parish. 

“Oyster reefs are one of the tools in the tool kit that we have to use for coastal restoration,” said Dr. Deborah Visco Abibou, the Restoration Programs Director for the group. 

Abibou said Louisiana has lost 2,000 square miles of coast over the past one hundred years and adds the state is at risk of losing double that in half the time. Abibou said projects like oyster reefs will slow the effects and offer a number of benefits. The shells could be called the building blocks of this ecosystem.  

“It’s helping to slow the erosion of valuable coastlines, and at the same time, it’s also providing habitat,” said Abibou. 

The shells provide shoreline protection, but unlike just plain old rocks, the shells become part of the ecosystem, growing more oysters and attracting other wildlife.

“Oysters are a keystone ecosystem engineer because where you have these reefs you have an abundance of life around them,” the doctor said. 

What really makes this interesting is where all these shells came from. Each one of the shells was once on someone’s plate and there are a lot of them: 1,200 baskets.

“This oyster reef is about two-thirds of a mile long, and it’s constructed entirely of oyster shells that have come from New Orleans area restaurants,” she said. 

This latest oyster reef is one of three similar kinds of projects in the state. The group is hoping for a lot more in the future.

“We really want to encourage the adoption of these reefs to be used for coastal restoration just because of the many benefits that they have,”  she said.

The project cost roughly $650,000  and was paid for by grant support from the Louisiana Dept. of Fisheries, Shell, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Wildlife Conservation Society. The project should be all wrapped by Saturday.

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