Thousands of tourists and locals craving oysters in New Orleans restaurants have contributed to an unconventional coastal protection project.
Crews recently completed an unconventional recycling project in Eastern St. Bernard Parish, which built a half-mile long artificial oyster reef.
"This project represents 1.7 million pounds of oysters," said Deborah Visco Abibou, Ph.D., of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.
CRCL teamed up with The Nature Conservancy, Shell Oil, a couple dozen restaurants and Nicholls State University to build the reef.
The oyster shells, crammed into 3x5 foot baskets, offer a new defense against waves, tides and storms.
Since 2014, a total of five million pounds of shell have been collected.
There were some hurdles along the way, including convincing restaurants that organizers could pull off the effort.
"I could see why they were skeptical," Visco Abibou said. "Keeping oysters around for any length of time could create problems with space and smell."
That meant guaranteeing the collection of oysters five days a week.
"This project has made eating oysters an act of stewardship," said Seth Blitch, Director of Coastal and Marine conservation for The Nature Conservancy.
The partners recently celebrated the completion of the first recycling project.
"Recycling oysters could mean just taking oysters and dumping them into the water," Visco Abibou said, "but we wanted to take that one step further and create a structure for shoreline protection."
Volunteers helped collect the oyster shells from a giant mound in Buras, where crews loaded them onto a barge before transporting them to St. Bernard Parish.
In an area already rich in oysters, the hope is that young oysters will attach to the outsides of the baskets and produce a living reef.
Although the reef is not intended to be harvested, organizers say the reef should add to the overall population of oysters and other marine life nearby.
"The erosion rates behind these projects, there's still erosion, but it's slower," Blitch said.
The Nature Conservancy has other projects in general area that have proved successful.
"Some of these shoreline protection projects can build land," Visco Abibou, said.