• Recycled oyster shells are a valuable resource in North Carolina. They are used to build new reefs.
  • Free floating baby oysters attach to the new reefs and grow more oysters.
  • Dumping oyster shells in landfills is illegal in North Carolina because of their value for habitat restoration.

Environmental and Economic benefits:

  • Oyster reefs provide habitat for a large variety of finfish and crab. A 3.5-mile-long oyster reef can produce up to 6,900 pounds of crab and shrimp for harvest.
  • Oyster reefs help stabilize our soundside shorelines.
  • Oysters help restore water quality. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.
  • Oysters are an important commercial fishery in North Carolina. Annual harvest is over 100,000 bushels contributing more than $5M to the state’s economy.


  • From 2003 to 2018, the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries operated a state-funded oyster shell recycling program that provided 6-15% of the shell needed for restoration projects. Unfortunately, the state-run oyster shell recycling program ended in 2018 due to budget cuts and staff reductions.
  • The North Carolina Coastal Federation has developed a pilot program to re-start oyster shell recycling in the Outer Banks.
  • Since 2018, 12 volunteers have collected shells from three participating restaurants and delivered them to shell drop off points in Kill Devil Hills and Wanchese.
  • In the first 14 months of the program, the volunteers collected over 1,100 buckets of shell, weighing more than 16 tons, and has been used in habitat restoration projects in the Outer Banks.

    Photo by Chris Hannant for Our Coast Magazine

How Restaurant to Reef Works:

  • Fill out either the restaurant application for business participation or volunteer application to volunteer to transport shell and return to
  • Restaurants will be provided with 5-gallon plastic buckets with lids to collect the shell in. Filled buckets will be picked up by volunteers on scheduled days and dropped off at the closest recycling location – Kill Devil Hills Recycling Center or the shell pile in the Wanchese Industrial Park.
  • Monthly pick up schedules will be set at the beginning of each month. Clean, empty buckets will be provided at pick up to start the recycling process all over again.
  • A short educational session is required for staff with participation in the program. This training is approximately 10 minutes long.
  • A brief educational orientation will be provided for volunteers participating in the program.
    The federation is currently expanding the program on the Outer Banks and looking for additional restaurants and volunteers to participate. 

Marketing and Promotion:

With your participation in the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Restaurant to Reef Oyster Shell Recycling Program, you will receive a window decal, a certificate to hang up in your restaurant, and promotion on the federation’s website, and social media. By participating, you will be helping protect and restore North Carolina’s beautiful coast.

For more information, contact Victoria Blakey at or 252-473-1607.

The Restoration Continues

You can support even more oyster restoration by supporting Adopt an Oyster.