Sink Your Shucks™ Oyster Recycling Program

The oyster recycling program Sink Your ShucksTM was founded by the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) in 2009 and is led by the Coastal Conservation and Restoration group with assistance from the Texas Surf Conservancy. The program was the first in Texas that reclaims oyster shells from local restaurants and returns them to our local waters providing both substrate to form new reefs and habitat for fish, crabs and other organisms.

Shells are picked up from local restaurants and transported to Port of Corpus Christi property where they are quarantined. The shell is then moved from the stockpile location to various sites for restoration efforts conducted by HRI. Over 3 million pounds of shell has been collected to date and over 45 acres of oyster reef habitat has been restored throughout the Mission-Aransas Estuary in Copano, Aransas, and St. Charles Bays. Each spring, volunteers from various groups participate in shell-bagging events to create the building blocks of reefs in St. Charles Bay, adjacent to Goose Island State Park.


Oysters are an important ecological and economic resource. They create habitat for fish and shellfish, filter and clean bay waters, protect shorelines from erosion, and are a valued commercial fishery. Young oysters depend upon the hard shell substrate provided by reefs for attachment and growth.

Yet, although more than 2.6 million pounds of oysters were harvested from Texas bays in 2008 alone—the second largest commercial oyster harvest in the U.S.—no mechanism exists for shucked oyster shells to be returned to bay waters to maintain existing reefs and restore degraded habitats. Instead, after being harvested, shucked oysters, including large quantities created by restaurants, are typically thrown in the trash. This disposal of oyster shell in landfills disrupts the natural process of oyster reef growth and regeneration and deprives reefs of their most fundamental building blocks.

Thus, there is a critical need to develop an oyster shell recycling program to reclaim oyster shells from local restaurants and other sources of shell to use in oyster reef restoration, habitat enhancement and marine resource conservation projects. Successful reclamation of oyster shells and use of these shells in fisheries habitat restoration in Coastal Bend bays will provide new opportunities for marine resource conservation coast-wide in the state of Texas.


Oysters spawn from Spring through Fall, releasing sperm and eggs into bay waters. Young larval oysters have no shell. They swim freely for about 3 weeks and then seek a hard surface upon which to attach and begin building their shells.

Oysters prefer to settle on the shells of other oysters. However, as oysters are harvested, their associated shell habitat is removed.

Our oyster shell recycling program reclaims oyster shells, or “shucks”, from restaurants and seafood wholesalers so that they can be used in future oyster reef restoration projects. Without oyster shell recycling, this important coastal resource would be lost to the landfill, which disrupts the process of natural reef regeneration.

Oyster reefs provide habitat for a diverse group of animals including fish, shrimp, worms and crabs. Oysters are food for larger fish, rays and crabs that are capable of crushing their shells.

Oysters are big business – Texas is the 2nd largest oyster producer in the U.S. The oysters also provide “ecosystem services”: they improve water quality by filtering phytoplankton and excess nutrients, and the oyster reefs can form a protective breakwater that stabilizes the shoreline and protects against erosion.


Teacher resources about oysters and oyster conservation

Learn about the research behind why we use 100% cotton bags in our restoration efforts

Learn about oyster reef research
Visit the Coastal Conservation & Restoration Laboratory

Stay tuned to our social media for announcements on upcoming events

View videos about the process, our events, and general oyster conservation at YouTube!

Partner Restaurants

Our program begins with local businesses putting oysters on customers' plates and wouldn't be possible without their dedication to making a difference with their sustainability by donating shell for our restoration efforts. We cannot thank these area restaurants enough for their cooperation!

Partner Oyster Farms

Texas was the last coastal state to approve oyster farming, and shortly after the legislation was passed in 2019, this new industry is booming along the Texas coast. We are excited to start partnering with area oyster farmers to collect their culled and discarded shell. In the near future, some of these farms may serve as community collection points for citizens to drop off their own household shell too, stay tuned!

If your restaurant or farm is interested in partnering with our program, please reach out to our coordinator, Mike Osier at!


All logos, illustrations, and designs related to the Sink Your ShucksTM oyster recycling program are copyright of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and are not to be reproduced without written permission.

This project is funded in part through a grant from the Texas General Land Office (GLO) providing Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 funding made available to the State of Texas and awarded under the Texas Coastal Management Program. The views contained herein are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as representing the views of the GLO or the State of Texas.