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Oysters collected by Rivanna Solid Waste Authority headed to help filter Chesapeake Bay

Updated: Apr. 20, 2021 at 9:55 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Before you throw away those oyster shells: they could help filter millions of gallons of water flowing from central Virginia into the Chesapeake Bay.

For the last year and a half, Rivanna Authorities have been collecting oyster shells at the McIntire Recycling center. Now, they’re being taken to the James River – where something small will have a big impact.

“Here’s this neat little project going on, which instead of trying to fix sources coming into the bay, you’re trying to actually get the Bay in a position where it can heal thyself,” Rivanna Authorities Director of Solid Waste Phil McKalips said.

It’s a partnership between the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority and VCU’s Rice River Center, collecting oysters that otherwise would have gone in the trash from restaurant partners.

“Restaurants like Public Fish and Oyster, the Keswick, Shadwell seasonally has oysters,” VCU researcher Todd Janeski explained. “Some of our partners are local citizens.”

At the River Center, the used oyster shells will be reseeded with larval oysters and returned to the river. Last week, the team and volunteers sorted 210 bags of oysters. Within three years, the impact will add up.

“An adult oyster, which is about a three year old oyster in a year, a dozen of them filter, an Olympic sized swimming pool,” Janeski explained. “Just from that 210 bags, it’s 1.7 million. In about three years or four years, we put back almost 40 million oysters right now into the Piankatank River.”

That adds up to about 86 million gallons of water filtered a day, all from little oysters.

“We’re spending millions and millions of dollars and countless hours of labor to try and protect the bay,” McKalips said. “The oysters that live there, without a lot of additional inputs, will sit there and start to treat the water itself.”

The program has grown over the years – despite the pandemic.

“We’ve put back almost 40 million,” Janeski said. “We’re hoping to do that in one year, this year. I feel confident that we can hit at least 30 million this year, we’ve got our stride.”

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