WILLIAMSBURG — In the last thirteen years, 95-year-old Walter Zadan has recycled around 9,280 bushels of oyster shells. He plans to continue as long as he can.
Zadan, a Williamsburg resident, has volunteered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s (CBF) oyster restoration team since 2008. Every week, he picks up oyster shells from Berrett’s Seafood Restaurant, 199 S Boundary St., for use in CBF’s oyster restoration work.
On Wednesday, Dec. 2, CBF honored Zadan with an outstanding environmental stewardship award; recognizing him as CBF’s longest-serving Virginia oyster shell recycling volunteer.
Zadan was all smiles as CBF Virginia Oyster Restoration Manager Jackie Shannon presented him with the award outside Berrett’s, CBF’s longest-standing restaurant participant.
“Williamsburg was really our first location that came on board and supported shell recycling with the restaurant community,” Shannon said. “Walter has been recycling from this restaurant since they came on board in 2008.”
Zadan is one of dozens of volunteers who pick up shells that restaurants save after meals that are then deposited in designated oyster shell recycling bins around Virginia.
Once the bins are full, the volunteers then shovel the shells into a truck to be driven to the CBF’s oyster restoration center in Virginia Beach. There, the empty shells are cleaned and placed into large tanks with free-swimming baby oyster larvae, called spats, to permanently attach to the front and the back of the shell to grow into adult oysters.
Over time, each oyster shell that Zadan and other volunteers pick up from the restaurants turn into a hand-held oytser reef.
“From the plate out to an oyster reef, this is really helping enhance habitat,” Shannon said. “And a lot of our oyster goals have been met because of the dedication of Walter and many other people who have made our shell recycling program a success.”
A long-time environmental advocate, Zadan’s passion for oyster shell recycling came from a different place than perhaps most people with the same interest.
“I do not own a boat, have never owned a boat,” he said. “I do not now, nor have I ever, owned a fishing rod.”
Zadan’s shell recycling efforts began while living in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, where he advocated for clean air as a leader in the Group Against Smog and Pollution.
After moving to Norfolk in the 1980’s, he saw how the decline of oyster and striped bass populations led to a local seafood shortage.
Since moving to Williamsburg in the late 1990s, he became involved with CBF, visiting local organizations and events to encourage people to Save the Bay. He began regularly volunteering in oyster shell recycling for the organization in 2008.
“I was interested in how things work in nature. Things don’t change over long periods of time,” Zadan said.
Zadan and others from CBF headed to an oyster shell recycling bin on the William & Mary campus, where the shells are collected.
In his thirteen years, Zadan has recycled a total of about 2.78 million shells, which have become home to about 27 million oysters that CBF and partners have planted on sanctuary reefs.
“Each shell can have 10 oysters,” Shannon said. “And what Walter’s done over last ten to fifteen years is basically created homes for millions of oysters.”
Though it’s heavy work lifting bins full of shells, Zadan finds happiness in his volunteerism.
“I’ll keep doing it as long as I can,” he said.