A small but growing number of Boston-area eateries that used to dump oyster shells in landfills are now turning them over to a volunteer group that uses them to start new oyster beds that will clean the tidal mouths of state rivers.


The Massachusetts Oyster Project takes shells from a half-dozen restaurants, including ones at the Langham and Mandarin Oriental hotels in Boston and the Bergamot in Somerville, ages them for a year and then returns them to the water, where they provide a scaffold for young oysters to settle on and grow, said Andrew Jay, the organization’s director.


The oysters improve water quality, each filtering as much as 40 gallons of water a day, Jay said, and as the shells accumulate, they build up into hard, sponge-like reefs, providing habitat for other marine animals and protecting shorelines from erosion.


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