Conservationists using potato chip waste to create reefs and improve water quality off Sanibel Island

Reporter: Stephanie Byrne Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:
(Credit: SCCF)

Sanibel’s shoreline is getting protected with help from overseas. Thanks to help from the Dutch government, scientists and volunteers on Sanibel Island installed structures to help oysters and mangroves thrive and slow down erosion.

SCCF Marine Lab Director, Eric Milbrandt, said, “what we’re trying to do is plant mangroves and also establish an offshore oyster reef to protect the mangroves that are there from further erosion.”

To do that, the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF), Netherlands company BESE-Elements, and volunteers install biodegradable structures along Woodring Road.

What the reefs are made of may surprise you.

Malenthe Teunis, a marine biologist and operations manager with BESE-Elements, said, “they’re made out of dutch potatoes, so they traveled a long way.”

Specifically, they are made from potato chip waste. “So that’s a waste stream, we collect, we turn it into a biopolymer, and we put it into molds that makes these nice sheets,” said Teunis.

The potato reefs help oysters and mangroves thrive while protecting the shoreline, and they are good for water quality.

“Some say oysters, each oyster will filter 50 gallons of water per day. So if we even get 200 or 300 oysters per square foot, then we’ll get a major water quality benefit,” said Milbrandt.

In the face of sea-level rise and more intense storms, solutions can come in all shapes, sizes, and from all over.

People involved with the project will come out periodically over two years to check on the reef’s progress.

The same potato chip by-product is helping restore oyster reefs in the Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s east coast.

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