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Oyster shell recycling program flourishes under Zurich Classic partnership with Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana

4 Min Read

Beyond the Ropes


    Written by Helen Ross @Helen_PGATOUR

    This week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Tommy Cvitanovich expects to serve between 20,000 and 30,000 oysters at stations on the practice range, the 10th tee during Wednesday’s pro-am and hospitality tents on the final two holes.

    “It’s my biggest week of the year,” said the man who owns the world-famous Drago’s Seafood Restaurant and this year does double duty as the tournament chairman.

    Some will be what he calls “salty coast” raw oysters, but the vast majority will be the gloriously gooey charbroiled ones topped with a mixture of garlic, butter and parmesan and Romano cheeses, a recipe Cvitanovich developed in 1993.

    In the past, people finished the delicacies and tossed the shells into trash cans around TPC Louisiana, the contents headed for landfills. This year, though, the tournament has partnered with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL) to recycle the shells to help restore the state’s shoreline.

    After the shells are collected by the CRCL, volunteers will make sure no trash has been mixed into the bins. The shells will be dried, put in biodegradable nylon nets and returned to the water to create reefs and revitalize the habitat for oysters and fish.

    “So now you are building a natural reef that's going to help us protect the coastline a little bit so it doesn't erode as fast,” Cvitanovich says. “Also to help grow land because now in between where this reef is – this oyster shell, man-made reef – from where that is to the (shore), that area now is going to start growing.

    “There's lots of ways for oyster shells to be put back into our environment. Unfortunately, too many of them end up in the dump. But we are working on the green side of it and the sustainability side of taking the shells and putting them back in the water.”

    Since the CRCL began its recycling program in 2014, the organization has collected more than 7,000 tons of oyster shells – bagging 228 tons last year alone. As a result, more than 8,000 feet of living shoreline has been created.

    Collaborating and contributing to that mission of sustainability was a perfect fit for Zurich and the PGA TOUR event it has sponsored for the last 20 years.

    “Through the years, we have expanded our on-course recycling and conservation efforts at the Zurich Classic, and we are proud to be contributing this year to the CRCL’s crucial efforts to restore and protect coastal Louisiana,” said Alban Laloum, chief customer officer at Zurich North America. “Zurich is committed to taking positive action for the future at this tournament, in our sustainable practices within our own operations, and in our work with customers. We hope our efforts raise awareness and inspire others to create a brighter future for the planet, too.”

    The oyster shell recycling project is one of many sustainability efforts at the tournament this year.

    Biodegradable paper and plates, along with bamboo cutlery, are being used at hospitality venues throughout the course while leftover concessions are being donated to local food banks. Glass will be ground into sand and gravel so it will be available for disaster relief and coastal reconstruction. Building materials like mesh also will be reused as landscape edging.

    In addition, TPC Louisiana has a long history of protecting the environment and is one of only two golf courses in the state to have received an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Certification. Among those efforts, there are 15 acres of lakes on the property replenished by rain and golf course drainage, with that water used to irrigate the course. And invasive trees in the wooded areas have been replaced by native Cypress that is more capable of withstanding the ferocious hurricanes that batter the Louisiana coast.

    Cvitanovich says he began working with the fishermen who supply his restaurant to recycle shells since before the Louisiana coast was decimated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now, Drago’s and many other New Orleans restaurants partner with CRCL, as well.

    There’s a life cycle to the industry – which according to the CRCL website produces approximately one-third of the country’s oysters – that must be maintained.

    “I guess the easiest way to describe it, the best thing for oyster spats, which is basically an oyster seed or a baby oyster, the best way for that thing to survive is to attach to an oyster shell,” Cvitanovich says. “That way if it attaches to an oyster shell, it's got a lot of natural fertilizer, basically. And so the spat and oyster, it pulls out all the calcium and all the minerals that are in the shell that help the oyster grow better and faster and firmer.

    “And it has a much, much better chance of surviving by attaching to an oyster shell as opposed to a blade of grass or something else that might be in the water. So, oyster fishermen have been putting shells back forever.”

    Now, the Zurich Classic of New Orleans has joined the effort.

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