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The Nature Conservancy Launches Oyster Shell Recycling Programme

Restaurants around Hong Kong partake in the environmental organisation’s project in order to give Hong Kong’s oyster reefs a second chance.

July 19, 2021

Whether it’s getting rid of plastic straws, recycling glass, using compostable packaging or using coffee grounds for composting, the F&B industry has been implementing more and more sustainable methods to minimise waste in restaurants. But what more can be done? Recycling oyster shells may be the next thing to turn to.

Hong Kong was once home to thriving oyster reefs, which were unfortunately destroyed due to overexploitation and pollution. The Nature Conservancy is looking to bring those reefs back by introducing the Save Our Shells programme, which recycles discarded oyster shells to rebuild oyster reefs. 

The environmental organisation developed the pilot programme based on similar projects it had previously launched in Australia and the United States. It collects discarded shells from both oyster farmers in Deep Bay and restaurants around Hong Kong. Outlets such as the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club and The Verandah at The Repulse Bay are active partners in the programme.

The process is simple. Restaurants clean the discarded oyster shells and store them in a recycling bin that is then collected and transported to Ha Pak Nai in Yuen Long, where the oyster shells are left to weather naturally in the sun for three to four months to eliminate leftover bacteria. The shells are then taken to the restoration sites in Lau Fau Shan and Tolo Harbour and placed in a hand mesh bag that divers will place under water, in the form of a pyramid. This will build a solid foundation for juvenile oysters to latch on and grow, as oyster shells consist of calcium carbonate and make the ideal material to build reefs from.

So far, the Nature Conservancy has managed to accumulate six tonnes of oyster shells. Nine tonnes is needed to build a 5m x 5m pyramid. The Nature Conservancy’s goal is to have 20 tonnes of discarded shells to develop oyster reefs in Lantau and Deep Bay by the end of the year.

The Nature Conservancy is looking to recruit more restaurants and clubs in Hong Kong to participate in the programme in the hopes that maybe one day, Hong Kong’s oyster reefs will thrive once again.