You’ll find oysters on the menu of most seafood restaurants in Louisiana. The state produces up to 14 million pounds of oyster meat every year.

But this juicy meat comes in hard, inedible shells.

“Oyster shells were just going into landfill,” says Darrah Bach, who coordinates the oyster shell recycling program at the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.

Her group is collecting discarded shells from restaurants and using them to build new oyster reefs instead.

She says the reefs provide critical habitat for fish, shrimp, and other creatures. And they help protect Louisiana’s coasts from extreme storms.

“Oyster reefs are one of the first barriers against storms when they come in from the Gulf of Mexico,” Bach says. “And so this hard structure is actually going to break down wave energy and protect sensitive marsh area.”

The approach can reduce erosion by up to 50%. And Bach says it’s a better solution than rock walls because, over time, the reefs expand as more baby oysters settle on them.

“What oyster reefs do is grow up and up and out and out, so they can actually outpace sea level rise,” she says.

So Bach’s group tells oyster lovers: “Once you shuck ‘em, don’t just chuck ‘em.”

Reporting credit: Richa Malhotra/ChavoBart Digital Media