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Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Restaurants Recycle Oyster Shells to Revitalize Ocean Reefs

Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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]

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Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
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environment
Sip on This: The Queen Has Banned Plastic Straws at Buckingham Palace
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak, Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II is a big fan of naturalist David Attenborough, and it’s making an impact on royal dining. After working with the iconic Planet Earth narrator (and British knight) on an upcoming conservation film, the monarch felt inspired to take action close to home, banning plastics at royal palaces, Fast Company and The Telegraph report.

At Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, and Scotland’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, staff will now have to eschew plastic straws and plates, ditching disposable plastic dishware for china, glass, and recyclable paper. The ban will slowly rid public areas of plastic, too. In the palaces’ cafes, all takeout containers will be replaced with compostable or biodegradable alternatives, and plastic straws will slowly be phased out.

While plastic water bottles and bags often get more attention in anti-pollution campaigns, plastic straws are terrible for the environment, and the Queen isn’t the only one taking notice. Plastic straws are one of the most prevalent types of litter, and because of their size, they can’t be recycled. Scotland’s government banned them in parliament in January 2018 and hopes to ban them throughout the country by 2020. Companies like Pret a Manger are already trying to take action against straw waste, introducing paper straws instead.

The problem isn’t limited to the UK—in the U.S., Americans throw away an estimated 500 million straws per day (that’s between one and two per person). In California, several cities have mandated that restaurants provide plastic straws only if customers specifically ask for one, and the legislation may soon spread to the rest of the state. Beginning in July 2018, Seattle restaurants will have to offer compostable or recyclable straws instead of plastic ones as part of a new ban.

Time to make like the Queen and start a BYO-straw movement. Might we suggest you try a reusable silicone or stainless steel option?

[h/t Fast Company]

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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