The OysterFest strives to be a “green event” by recycling as much as possible, but most importantly all of the oyster and clam shells. During the 2018 Festival, nearly 5 tons of the shell from consumed shellfish were collected. As a result, the Festival’s total solid waste stream was reduced by 32%. The following spring, these shells were then reintroduced into Wellfleet Harbor to create habitat for shellfish and other marine species, enhance the amount of spat (baby oyster spawn) in the harbor, improve water quality by filtering particles and pollutants, and to protect the shoreline by creating a natural barrier from erosion.
The Shell Recycling program was developed in 2009 through a partnership between SPAT, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA) and the Town of Wellfleet Wastewater Committee. This effort has taken significant steps to reducing solid waste at the event while vastly improving the water quality and fish habitat in Wellfleet Harbor.
Over the past six years, the OysterFest and its partners have reintroduced over 30 tons of shells back into the harbor. Combined with the Town of Wellfleet’s “cultching efforts” including another 2,500 tons of shell, we have restored over 35 acres of habitat! As a result of this addition of shell approximately 60 million new oysters will grow in the harbor; that’s 15 times the annual harvest rate! As these oysters mature they will filter over 16 million gallons of water in the harbor each day and remove 400 pounds of nitrogen per year. That is going to do a lot for creating a healthy wild oyster fishery habitat in Wellfleet Harbor!
In 2012, SPAT and the Town of Wellfleet were acknowledged for this unprecedented effort and were awarded a Municipal Innovation Award. This designation recognized the combined recycling and habitat restoration effort of SPAT and its collaborators.
Two acres of this larger effort is designated as an Oyster Propagation site. This is the first experimental no-take shellfish sanctuary which is supported by the local shellfish constable and Division of Marine Fisheries as a means of evaluating the environmental benefits with a particular focus on water quality. This site is being monitored by UMass Boston Green Harbors Project for biological changes and the Center for Coastal Studies for water quality assessment. Research shows an increase in biodiversity and oyster population by 90%, establishing 6 million oysters in three years that provided a 70% nitrogen sink, improving the water quality in this area.
Because of Wellfleet’s unique environment and this restoration site, scientists from federal, state and private entities come to Wellfleet to conduct research. This long-term monitoring in Wellfleet Harbor will provide a data set from a high resource area for comparative study in the future.