First year of Wellfleet oyster project deemed success, as 25,000 pounds of shells recycled
Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll
Cape Cod Times
Sept. 30, 2021
WELLFLEET — The first year of turning what would have been oyster trash into future coastal reefs was deemed a huge success by organizers and participants.
The inaugural season of the Massachusetts Oyster Project recycling program, which concluded on Labor Day weekend, collected more than 25,000 pounds of shells from Wellfleet restaurants, diverting trash from Cape Cod landfills, organizers said.
The shells were put in special containers picked up four times per week by project staff and volunteers and then collected at a special site managed by the town of Wellfleet’s Shellfish Department and Transfer Station.
Eight local Wellfleet restaurants signed on to the pilot program in June, including the Beachcomber in Wellfleet, Pearl Restaurant and Bar, Mac’s Shack Wellfleet, Winslow’s Tavern, The Wicked Oyster, Moby Dick’s Restaurant, CShore Kitchen and Bar and Van Rensselaer’s Restaurant and Raw Bar.
The next step will be for the shells to age for a year, cleaned by wind and weather, according to an announcement of the program’s results. After that, town officials will spread the shells around Wellfleet Harbor to create juvenile oyster habitat.
“We’re thrilled at how this summer went,” said project president Sarah Valencik in a written statement. “We’ve taken a huge step to not only keep shells out of landfills, but those recycled shells will then go towards building reefs along the shores of Wellfleet.”
The Massachusetts Oyster Project is an all-volunteer nonprofit with a stated mission to strengthen the coastal environment by restoring native shellfish populations, improving water quality, increasing the diversity of sea life, and mitigating the effects of climate change.
Officials from the town and 11th Hour Racing, an organization that establishes community partnerships “to promote collaborative, systemic change benefitting the health of our ocean” were also pleased by how well the shell collection worked and with participants’ enthusiasm. Cory Silken, 11th Hour Racing Ambassador, hopes the program will continue and be turned into a model for other communities.
Few communities are as tied to oysters as Wellfleet. In 2019, Wellfleet was first in the state for the value of its oyster landings in wholesale sales, according to information from the Massachusetts Oyster Project.
Shellfishing, it said, is the biggest year-round industry for the town, representing more than $7.7 million in local income and providing jobs for 10% of its residents, the data said.
Wellfleet has also been home to the popular OysterFest that often drew more than 20,000 people to town. The good news about the shell recycling program’s success comes just as a new Wellfleet Oyster Week — a reduced replacement for the OysterFest because of pandemic and crowd-control concerns — is due to begin on Friday.
Organizers Wellfleet S.P.A.T. (Shellfish Promotion and Tasting Inc.) and the town recreation department have scheduled Oyster Week activities that include a disco night Friday at Baker’s Field Pavilion; a Shuck & Run 5k Road Race on Sunday; food offerings next week through Maryann’s Cafe; an online auction; an Art & Oyster Crawl on Oct. 9; and S.P.A.T. oyster farm grant tours on Oct. 9-10. Information: wellfleetspat.org.
The future of Wellfleet’s celebrated oysters will be affected by the success of the new shell recycling endeavor, according to the Massachusetts Oyster Project. The best surface for baby oysters (spat) to grow on is other oyster shells, the press release said. The shells deposited in intertidal areas of Wellfleet Harbor will create a favorable environment for oyster clusters to develop.
It can take about three years for a wild oyster to reach the legal harvest size of three inches, according to project officials, and the rows of shell and clusters of growing oysters can create a low-profile reef — which they said “were once the bedrock of the Massachusetts coastline.”
Benefits the project listed include each oyster purifying up to 50 gallons of water per day; reefs providing homes for other marine species, increasing biodiversity; and reefs growing large enough to become protective barriers for shorelines against waves and weather.
This kind of shell-recycling partnership, said Wellfleet Shellfish Constable Nancy Civetta, can help to increase the amount of nursery habitat in Wellfleet Harbor and allow the town “to accomplish things for our shellfish nursery program that we would not be able to achieve otherwise.”