CLOSE
Original image
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Restaurants Recycle Oyster Shells to Revitalize Ocean Reefs

Original image
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Oysters are more than a tasty appetizer. The mollusks are key players in healthy marine environments. The filter-feeders improve water quality, and their beds provide habitat for fish and other underwater critters. Oyster beds also improve life out of the water, preventing coastal erosion and creating a buffer against large waves.

As oysters’ role in maintaining a vibrant coastal ecosystem becomes more clear, environmental groups are trying to bring back devastated oyster populations. In some places, this means getting restaurants to recycle their leftover oyster shells to put back into the ocean instead of sending them to a landfill, according to Fast Company.

This is particularly important along the Gulf Coast, where the Alabama Coastal Foundation (ACF) set up a recycling program in 2016 to collect used oyster shells from local eateries. According to The Nature Conservancy, 67 percent of the U.S. oyster harvest comes from the Gulf of Mexico [PDF]. The Nature Conservancy has been working throughout the Gulf of Mexico to restore oyster populations.

So far, the effort in Alabama, a partnership between the waste collection company Republic Services and the ACF, has collected enough oyster shells to cover 7.2 acres of sea floor. The program is currently funded by a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and is free to restaurants, though that may change in the future.

Alabama isn’t the only place oyster shells are becoming a hot commodity. In New York City, the Billion Oyster Project is working to restore oyster populations and reefs in New York Harbor, in part to make Staten Island more resilient to superstorms and flooding. (Hurricane Sandy ravaged the island's east and south shores in 2012.) In New Jersey, the American Littoral Society is seeding local waterways with new oysters in Barnegat Bay in hopes of both restoring the once-vibrant oyster harvesting industry there and cleaning the waterways. Other oyster repopulation projects are ongoing in the Chesapeake Bay and along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas. On the West Coast, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund plans to restore 100 acres of native oyster habitats by 2020.

However, oyster habitat restoration isn’t as easy as it sounds. In a 15-year study of Rhode Island’s oyster restoration programs, the oysters had such a high mortality rate that populations began declining immediately when the programs stopped actively re-seeding the beds with new oysters. Another worldwide study found that the median survival rate for oyster bed restoration projects was only 56 percent.

As many current oyster restoration projects are just gaining steam, it may be years before we find out if they can be as effective as natural oyster beds.

[h/t Fast Company]

Original image
iStock
arrow
gross
London's Sewer-Blocking 'Fatbergs' Are Going to Be Turned Into Biodiesel
Original image
iStock

UK officials can't exactly transform the Whitechapel fatberg—a 143-ton trash mass lurking in London's sewer system—into treasure, but they can turn it into fuel. As The Guardian reports, Scottish biodiesel producer Argent Energy plans to convert parts of the noxious blockage into an environmentally friendly energy source.

For the uninitiated, fatbergs (which get their names from a portmanteau of "fat" and "icebergs") are giant, solid blobs of congealed fat, oil, grease, wet wipes, and sanitary products. They form in sewers when people dump cooking byproducts down drains, or in oceans when ships release waste products like palm oil. These sticky substances combine with floating litter to form what could be described as garbage heaps on steroids.

Fatbergs wash up on beaches, muck up city infrastructures, and are sometimes even removed with cranes from sewer pipes as a last resort. Few—if any—fatbergs, however, appear to be as potentially lethal as the one workers recently discovered under London's Whitechapel neighborhood. In a news release, private utility company Thames Water described the toxic mass as "one of the largest ever found, with the extreme rock-solid mass of wet wipes, nappies, fat and oil weighing the same as 11 double-decker buses."

Ick factor aside, the Whitechapel fatberg currently blocks a stretch of Victorian sewer more than twice the length of two fields from London's Wembley Stadium. Engineers with jet hoses are working seven days a week to break up the fatberg before sucking it out with tankers. But even with high-pressure streams, the job is still akin to "trying to break up concrete," says Matt Rimmer, Thames Water's head of waste networks.

The project is slated to end in October. But instead of simply disposing of the Whitechapel fatberg, officials want to make use of it. Argent Energy—which has in the past relied on sources like rancid mayonnaise and old soup stock—plans to process fatberg sludge into more than 2600 gallons of biodiesel, creating "enough environmentally friendly energy to power 350 double-decker Routemaster buses for a day," according to Thames Water.

"Even though they are our worst enemy, and we want them dead completely, bringing fatbergs back to life when we do find them in the form of biodiesel is a far better solution for everyone," said company official Alex Saunders.

In addition to powering buses, the Whitechapel fatberg may also become an unlikely cultural touchstone: The Museum of London is working with Thames Water to acquire a chunk of the fatberg, according to BBC News. The waste exhibit will represent just one of the many challenges facing cities, and remind visitors that they are ultimately responsible for the fatberg phenomenon.

"When it comes to preventing fatbergs, everyone has a role to play," Rimmer says. "Yes, a lot of the fat comes from food outlets, but the wipes and sanitary items are far more likely to be from domestic properties. The sewers are not an abyss for household rubbish."

[h/t The Guardian]

arrow
environment
Great Britain's Last Snow Patch Is About to Disappear Completely for the First Time in a Decade

Until recently, it was easy to find snow in Great Britain at any time of the year—you just had to know where to look. In previous Septembers, the island has been home to as many as 678 snow patches, residual pockets of snow and ice whose climates and topographies keep them frozen through the summer. This year, though, only two of Britain's snow patches have survived the summer. And the island is now on track to be completely snowless by the end of the season, Atlas Obscura reports.

Snow patches vary in size and durability, with some melting completely by late summer and others remaining a permanent fixture of the landscape. Garbh Choire Mor—a steep glacial depression on top of Scotland's third-highest mountain, Braeriach—contains two of the oldest snow patches in Britain, known as the Pinnacles and the Sphinx. The Pinnacles snow patch dissolved into a puddle earlier this month, and the Sphinx snow patch, the last surviving snow patch in Great Britain, is expected to do the same in the next few days.

Scotland experienced uncharacteristically hot weather this summer, with temperatures creeping into the low 90s as early as May. But more significant than the sweltering summer was the dry winter that preceded it. Below-average snowfall last year meant this year's snow patches were already smaller than usual when temperatures started heating up. If the Sphinx snow patch does vanish before winter arrives, it will mark the first time in over a decade and just the sixth time in the last 300 years that England, Scotland, and Wales are without a single patch of snow.

The Sphinx snow patch, though currently a measly version of its previous self, is still visible for now. But Iain Cameron, a veteran "snow patcher" who writes an annual report on snow for the UK's Royal Meteorological Society, says it could be gone as soon as Wednesday, September 20.

He's currently camped out on Garbh Choire Mor, waiting to document the patch's final moments. You can follow his updates on Twitter.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios