MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A Myrtle Beach restaurant is getting accolades for its efforts to recycle oyster shells during a record-breaking year for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Dirty Don’s Oyster Bar & Grill has recycled tons of shells through the years, prompting the DNR to recognize the restaurant’s owners with a certificate to display in their restaurants.

“I crunched some numbers,” said Holly Sommers, the oyster recycling and enhancement manager for the DNR. “They have consistently been supplying almost 700 bushels every year.” 

Dirty Don’s is one of many restaurants along the Grand Strand that sell oysters, and the owners said they typically go the extra mile to recycle oyster shells.  

“It takes a little bit more effort sometimes than just throwing them away in the trash, but when you have other people and helping hands, it’s not hard to do,” said Tanner Cauthen, Dirty Don’s owner and general manager. 

According to Sommers, a record 38,000 bushes of oyster shells have been recycled so far this year in South Carolina. Horry County accounted for 6.7% of that total.

“We did basic research and we found that over 60 restaurants serve oysters in Horry County,” Sommers said. “I’m sure there are more, and I’m sure that number’s going to grow, and it’s important that we target this area and help get people onboard.” 

Why is recycling oysters so important? Sommers said it’s because the shells manage and rebuild oyster reefs.

“The oyster, they themselves, they are a natural resource,” she said. “Whenever you pull this oyster shell out of the water, it needs to be put back on the shoreline because of their lifecycle. Oysters are broadcast bonders, and eventually, that will create a beautiful baby larva on the water column. And that larva wants to settle. It will seek out [an] oyster shell and wants to settle on the oyster shell. I actually have an example here of baby oysters that have landed and settled.”  

The saltwater fishery plays a crucial role in the state’s ecology, economy and culture, some Cauthen knows to be true from firsthand experience. He said his restaurant serves nearly 50 tons of oysters a year, and one big benefit of recycling is replenishment.

“We try to do our best and our part, always,” Cauthen said. “When we found the DNR’s program, and they provided us with a trailer, they made it super easy to get ahold of someone to come dump them frequently, and then replanting them, too, in our own oyster beds in South Carolina, even though we are buying from different state’s shells and bringing them into our state for conservation.”  

Dirty Don’s also supports recycling by other restaurants by providing a trailer in their back parking lot where shells can be dumped to be recycled. The DNR also has 30 drop-off locations.