October Means Oysters on Bald Head Island!

October Means Oysters on Bald Head Island!

by Dr. Beth Darrow, Chief Scientist

Join the BHI Conservancy October 10 – 16 for North Carolina Oyster Week as we “shellebrate” the ecology, history, culture, and economy of oysters on Bald Head Island! Mid-October marks the beginning of wild oyster harvest season, and we look forward to enjoying wild oysters in oyster roasts, holiday meals, and on the half shell. We will be hosting a number of oyster-y events in early to mid-October and we would love you to join us!

The Eastern Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is a bivalve mollusc that is native to the East Coast of Canada and the US, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. Oyster reefs are located in salt or brackish water: in Bald Head Creek at low tide, you can see our extensive (and sharp!) reefs. Oysters are sessile, or immobile, animals once they reach their adult stage. They settle on hard structures (i.e., piers, rocks, and old shells) and form these reefs, intricate structures that form a habitat for fish, crabs, shrimp, and other animals. These structures can protect coastal areas from erosion and stabilize vegetation from being uprooted due to storm surge. Oysters are suspension feeders, meaning that they filter floating plankton from the water column. This helps remove algae and clear the water column. These “ecosystem services” are some of the many reasons that the Conservancy and other conservation organizations focus on enhancing and restoring oyster reefs.

Did you know that in North Carolina, it is illegal to throw oyster shells away in the landfill? This is because these shells are a valuable natural resource. Throughout the state, oyster shells are recycled and used to build artificial oyster reefs. The Conservancy, with the assistance of volunteers, built three artificial oyster reefs in fall 2021. These reefs, made from “building blocks” of mesh bags filled with recycled shells, will be further enhanced this fall. We request that households and restaurants on BHI place oyster and clam shells in our yellow bin at the Village Creek Access or bring them to the Conservancy campus. 

How can you get involved in NC Oyster Week? 

  • Volunteer. We welcome volunteers age 12 and up to help fill shell bags and place them out in the creek. Bagging shifts are Wednesday and Saturday mornings and the restoration day is on Friday, October 7 (sign up: https://www.trackitforward.com/site/642847/events). Email conservation@bhic.org with any questions.
  • Discover. Bring the family to Fleming Education Center at the Conservancy on Saturday, October 8 for all the fun oyster activities! The Fleming Education Center will be open from 10-3pm with oyster exhibits set up throughout the building and oyster shell art will take place from 1-3pm.  Be prepared to come get your hands dirty and have fun! 
  • Eat & Learn. Join us Sunday, October 9 at 5:30 PM for a family-friendly “shellebration” at Wrightsville Beach Brewery in Wilmington, where BHIC Chief Scientist Beth Darrow will give a presentation (Shellebrate! Cracking Open the History and Science of Oyster Shells) while we enjoy bivalves and brews. RSVP by emailing melissa@bhic.org
  • Support. You can help support the Conservancy’s oyster restoration program by purchasing oyster-related merchandise at Turtle Central (look for new designs this fall!). And for a limited time, you can Adopt an Oyster through our website or at Turtle Central. For $10, include your name or a short message on a recycled oyster shell and we will include it in a bag to be placed on one of our restored reefs! Donate at https://bhic.org/donate/ and write “Adopt an Oyster: Your message” in the comments. Or visit TC and write your own message!

We hope you enjoy shellebrating these mighty molluscs as much as we do!

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