From restaurants to reefs: recycling discarded oyster shells

If you slurp oysters from the half-shell in New Orleans, you may be doing more than satisfying a culinary craving: You could be helping to construct reefs that environmental groups hope will save a bit of Louisiana's coastline.

Since 2014, restaurants have contributed nearly 2,600 tons of shells to the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and The Nature Conservancy. About one-quarter of those shells now form a half-mile-long reef about 40 miles from New Orleans.

Tiny oyster larvae prefer to cement themselves to oyster shells as their permanent home. But for thousands of years, people have been eating oysters and tossing the shells.

Although Louisiana's oyster fishery is the nation's largest, until recently the state built shallow-water reefs mostly of concrete or limestone. Oyster-shell recycling was inspired by programs in other states, including Texas.