rides a wave of recycled seashells destined to become bedrock for new shellfish reefs
Simon Branigan rides a wave of recycled seashells destined to become bedrock for new shellfish reefs © Fiona Pepper/ABC

Food & Water Stories

Shuck don't chuck: Shell recycling project

Turning restaurant waste destined for landfill into new shellfish reefs

Growing native oysters for our reef restoration work can be a tricky business. In order to grow, juvenile oysters require a hard surface to settle on, preferably another oyster shell or something similar like a mussel or scallop shell. Historic dredge fishing removed much of the existing oyster shell from places like Port Phillip Bay in Victoria and Gulf St Vincent in South Australia. The resulting lack of hard shell substrate is one of the key factors preventing oyster reefs from re-establishing naturally in these areas.

Reinstating a natural cycle

To help reinvigorate this natural cycle, we set up a shell recycling project we call Shuck Don’t Chuck. Here’s how it works:

  • Firstly we collect used oyster, mussel and scallop shells from restaurants, venues and seafood wholesalers in areas alongside some of our reef restoration projects. 
  • Secondly, the shells are cured to kill off any diseases by laying them out in the sun for a few months. 
  • When they’re ready they are bagged up and taken to our reef restoration sites
  • Finally as part of the reef construction process, the tonnes of recycled shells are spread over limestone rubble we’ve already placed on the seafloor as a ‘settlement substrate’ for juvenile oysters to cement onto.

This technique has been used successfully by The Nature Conservancy in the United States and around the world for more than 15 years.

the process of using recycled shells for building new reefs
Shell Recycling the process of using recycled shells for building new reefs © TNC

Community involvement 

We’re always on the lookout for more hospitality venues in Geelong and Melbourne who’d be interested in joining the project to recycle their seafood shells. To find out more, please contact us

We’re proud to work on this project in partnership with Portland House Foundation, Brambles, Geelong Disabled Peoples Industries, Little Creatures Geelong, SUEZ, HSBC Australia, Mantzaris Fisheries, South Melbourne Markets, Advance Mussel Supplies, Barking Spider Visual Theatre, Dow Chemical Australia, Telegraph Hotel, Vue Group,  Collins Quarter and Il Nostro Posto on this exciting and impactful project.

Recycling shells from your plate When feasting on a steaming hot bowl of mussels, have you ever wondered what happens to all the leftover shells? Chances are they end up in landfill. Courtesy of the ABC's War on Waste series.