These days bottles, cans, newspapers, printer cartridges, even mobile phones, can be recycled. Now it seems shells can be added to the list.
For about a year kitchen staff at the Little Creatures brewery in Geelong have been keeping discarded shells from the plates of mussels they sell to hungry customers.
The shells are destined to find their way to the bottom of Port Phillip Bay as part of a landmark environmental project to recreate lost shellfish reefs and boost habitat for the bay’s marine wildlife.
“They would otherwise just go in the bin,” the manager of Little Creature Geelong, Paul Rogasch, said of the used shells from the 4700 plates of mussels sold each year at the brewery’s restaurant.
In 2014 conservation group, the Nature Conservancy, launched a project with Fisheries Victoria and the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club to begin recreating shellfish reefs across Port Phillip Bay.
Port Phillip used to be dominated by such reefs. But decades of dredge fishing, which began in the 19th century, left the seabed basically cleared of the native flat oysters and blue mussel reefs that once stood.
Since launch, the Nature Conservancy has been testing different types of reef design at Hobson’s Bay and the Geelong Arm of the bay under a $300,000 trial.
Mussels deployed into the shellfish reef restoration trial area at Margaret’s Reef in Hobsons Bay.
The early results have been promising. For instance there have been encouraging rates of oyster survival, which appear to be growing and starting to form the early stages of shellfish reefs.
Over the coming year or so there are plans for expansion from the early trials, with the current one metre by one metre plots expected to be enlarged to around 20 metres by 20 metres.
But the groups need mussel, oyster and scallop shells to do it, and lots of them.
Most to date have been sourced from a shellfish farmer in the bay called Advance Mussels.
But one of the Nature Conservancy’s project team, estuaries conservation manager Simon Brannigan, used a personal connection to establish the recycling program at Little Creatures to create an alternative source.
The arrangement was informal in the early days, but in recent times Mr Branigan has solidified the program.
He has now organised a transport company to pick up the shells once a fortnight from the brewery. And he hopes to bring on board another three restaurants in Geelong and then expand from there, including to seafood wholesalers.
After gathering the discarded plates of shells, the staff at Little Creatures wash them and store them in the freezer room. After they are collected they are stored at a Fisheries Victoria complex at Queenscliff, where they are left out in the sun to dry.
Later this year they will be mixed with limestone and used as a base for the expanded shellfish reef trials.
Mr Branigan said the early results of the program had shown that establishing a base of old shells and limestone had increased the numbers of shellfish that were surviving on the recreated reefs.
A report by James Cook University released last year found there was now an opportunity to re-establish reefs at three Victorian bays and inlets – Port Phillip, Western Port and Corner Inlet.
The reports said recreating the shellfish reefs is expected to provide a boost to marine life by providing habitat and shelter for fish species such as snapper, flathead, rockling, along with other sea creatures including octopus, crabs and squid.
Shellfish reefs also provide a highly efficient natural filtration of water and can help prevent harmful algae breakouts.
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