Oyster Recycling in Las Vegas
RENUoil of America, Inc. ™ partners with local Las Vegas casinos to recycle oysters from their restaurants. The empty shells are collected in the kitchen and placed into tubs to be rinsed. Once they are brought down to the recycling dock, the RENUoil team picks up the shells and consolidates them. They are spread out under the Las Vegas sun until there is enough to be sent to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. This organization helps reclaim these oysters and puts them back into the ocean. The Foundation places the oyster shells in water tanks that have oyster larvae which attaches to the empty shells (Save Oyster Shells in Maryland). Each recycled shell can be the home of baby oysters called spat. One shell can be help dozens of spat grow. These baby oyster shells are then planted to grow into oyster reefs. This creates a closed loop recycling program that helps benefit our marine life through reef restoration.
Benefits of Oyster Reefs
Oysters improve the water quality by filtering algae. One oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. This helps improve the water clarity. Animals rely on the clear waters for their eco-system. If the waters become too murky, then the animals could suffer as they could either leave the region in search of a new home or their population will significantly decrease (VWU).
Benefits to the Aquatic Ecosystems
Oysters are so important to the ocean life that they are considered a keystone species. Oyster reefs make up the habitat for many marine life animals as the crevices allow fish and crabs to have shelter from predators. They also create a hard surface for species such as barnacles, mussels, and anemones to attach on the reef (Oyster Importance).
Nitrogen enters our oceans through storm runoffs, wastewater treatment plants, and agricultural runoffs. Excess nitrogen can be harmful to the marine habitat as it fuels algae growth. An abundance of algae can block sunlight in the water which kills underwater plants and results in the reduction of oxygen in the water (Can Oysters Solve the Nitrogen Problem?). Oysters are a part of the solution as they incorporate nitrogen into their shells as they grow (Measurement of Nitrogen Removal by Local Shellfish).
Oysters are vital to the food web and are essential to other species survival. Creatures like anemones rely on oyster larvae, as a food source (Chesapeake Bay Program). Mud crabs eat the spat which is essentially baby oysters. The large blue crab feeds on both the mud crab and oyster population. Seabirds also eat adult oysters that are exposed on the ocean surface.
Oyster reefs provide the wonderful benefit of the reduction of storm intensity. The oyster reefs are a from of a breakwater through absorbing the wave energy before it reaches the shore (Matchar). A recent study in New York Harbor found that the wave energy is around 200% higher than before oyster harvesting began in the 1600s. This can be contributed to a number of factors such as climate change and the population decline of oysters. Damage from storms are expensive and oysters could help elevate the costs associated with the aftermath. Oysters also help prevent coastal erosion while benefiting the eco-system.
Shortage of Oysters
In the 1600s Europeans explored Chesapeake Bay and mentioned having to navigate around the gigantic oyster reefs (Averill). The oyster reefs have been negatively impacted by pollution, disease, and over harvesting, which has led to wild oyster population only being at 1% of the historic numbers.
Reasons for Population Decline
In the 1800s dredges were first used in the Chesapeake Bay. Dredging is a harmful fishing method where a dredge is used to scrape the ocean floor. This has led to habitat damage for oysters as only thin layers of dead reefs are left on the bottom of the sea. Over-harvesting the oysters has negatively impacted the bay’s health.
Sadly, two forms of parasites called Dermo and MSX have invaded the Chesapeake Bay area since the 1950s (university of Maryland Center for Environmental Science). These parasites can cause oysters to die and hurt the growth rates of the reefs. These diseases can be more prevalent in ocean areas with high salt content and warmer temperatures. Climate change can pose the problem of increased parasites as the ocean’s overall temperature increases.
Pollution in our oceans creates dead zones where there are low oxygen levels due to an increase in algae (Chesapeake Bay Program). Poor water quality makes it harder for oyster larvae to be successful. An increase in coastal erosion results in more sediment build up of clay and sand. Excess sediment can suffocate the oysters and harm the reefs.
“Battle for the Bay: The Importance of Oyster Restoration: VWU Online.” VWU, 15 Aug. 2019, online.vwu.edu/news/environmental-studies/oyster-restoration/.
“Can Oysters Solve the Nitrogen Problem?” Rhode Island Sea Grant, 8 May 2019, seagrant.gso.uri.edu/can-oysters-solve-the-nitrogen-problem/#:~:text=One%20way%20in%20which%20oysters,the%20system%2C%E2%80%9D%20she%20said.
“Importance of Oysters.” Horn Point Lab Oyster Hatchery, hatchery.hpl.umces.edu/oysters/importance-of-oysters/.
Matchar, Emily. “As Storms Get Bigger, Oyster Reefs Can Help Protect Shorelines.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 10 Jan. 2018, www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/storms-get-bigger-oyster-reefs-can-help-protect-shorelines-180967774/.
“Oyster History .” University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, hatchery.hpl.umces.edu/oysters/history/.
“Oysters.” Chesapeake Bay Program, www.chesapeakebay.net/issues/oysters.
“Save Oyster Shells in Maryland.” Chesapeake Bay Foundation, www.cbf.org/how-we-save-the-bay/programs-initiatives/maryland/oyster-restoration/save-oyster-shells.html.