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Artificial oyster reef built off Fenwick Island using spent shells

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The Delaware Center for the Inland Bays has installed the first artificial oyster reef in the state at Little Assawoman Bay off Fenwick Island.

The reef is designed to restore oyster populations, create a habitat for fish and wildlife, and improve water quality in the bay. It was created using recycled oyster shells collected from local restaurants instead of concrete oyster castles. Researchers will study the reef to better understand oyster biology.

“Each of these research reefs will provide water quality and habitat benefits, but will also help us better design and locate future reefs, aiding in the recovery of wild oysters in the Inland Bays,” said Andrew McGowan, environmental scientist for the Center for the Inland Bays.

Local restaurants participated in the Center’s Don’t Chuck Your Shucks shell recycling program. The shells were collected by Center staff, left to cure for a few months, and then bagged by teams of volunteers in the late winter and early spring. The shells were shaped into the 10 x 40-foot reef and seeded with oysters raised by the Center’s volunteer oyster gardeners.

Although these shells originated in restaurants, the oysters that will grow on these reefs are not permitted to be harvested or consumed.

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