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Enhancing Reefs Through Shell Recycling

Apr 12, 2023


The New Jersey DEP Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Resources Administration (MRA) has instituted a successful oyster shell recycling program in Atlantic County to sustain and expand oyster reefs in the Mullica River.

Oyster reefs are an important part of our local ecosystem. They act as a natural filtration system for the river and provide habitat for fish and shellfish species that are vital to recreational and commercial activities.

“The Mullica River oyster reefs are unique and among the last self-sustaining reefs on the Atlantic Coast of New Jersey,” said Scott Stueber, Fisheries Biologist for MRA. “It’s critical to maintain these reefs in a sustainable manner because oyster reefs provide so many services to the local ecosystem.  Shell planting is a foundational management action that we can take to help keep these reefs healthy and sustainable. Recycling shell helps us get there.”

Recycling Program Begins


After collection, the shells sit for 6+ months before they can be placed back into the Mullica River by the MRA team.

To grow and survive, oyster larvae need other shells to attach to. Once oysters are harvested for eating, they are not typically returned to the water where they can continue contributing to the habitat and life-cycle of future oysters.

Knowing this, MRA worked with the Jetty Rock Foundation, the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, and Stockton University to establish a collection system among local restaurants and return empty shells to the Mullica River.

The official shell recycling program was implemented in 2019 and has since grown to include partners at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Dock’s Oyster House, Knife & Fork Inn, Golden Nugget Casino, and Borgata Casino. Restaurant employees discard shells into specified bins. MRA employees collect the discarded shells from the partner locations across Atlantic City once-per-week.

Expansion and New Solutions


As anticipated, the benefits of shell recycling garnered interest from several restaurants and casinos. To ensure the continued addition of restaurant partners, MRA sought to order new, branded shell recycling carts, and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority (ACUA) was tapped to assist.

Through funding provided by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), ACUA assisted MRA in ordering 32-gallon recycling carts that are unique to the program. The carts display branding and signage to remind workers of their intended use – shell recycling only. The new carts allowed the program to expand to additional venues.


MRA uses the above collection system to pickup discarded shells from area restaurants.

“This program decreases trash and contributes to the health of our local water systems – a true win-win for Atlantic County’s environment,” said Gary Conover, ACUA Vice President of Solid Waste. “ACUA was happy to assist in ordering the new collection carts.” 

“The CRDA seeks to contribute to meaningful projects that improve Atlantic City,” said Maisha Moore, Deputy Executive Director of the CRDA. “This is a wonderful example of such a project, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.” 


From left: Ricky DiVaccaro (MRA), Scott Stueber (MRA), Maisha Moore (CRDA), Ryan Mahoney (ACUA), Gary Conover (ACUA), and Les Frie (MRA).

A total of 3,362 bushels (92.45 tons) were collected from partners in 2022. The program is on pace to collect 5,000 bushels in 2023 and anticipates reaching its goal of 10,000 bushels in the coming years. 

“We look forward to expanding the program to include additional restaurant partners as well as working to implement a drop-off site for local residents to participate,” said Stueber.

For more information on the program, visit: