Center for Strategic Communication


If you have any oyster shells lying around, the U.S. Army wants five dumptrucks’ worth. You don’t even have to include the delicious oysters inside. And they’re willing to pay up to $15,000 for them.

That’s the gist of one of the stranger U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracts in recent memory. Last week, the Army put out a call for the empty shells — specifically, shells that have been “shucked and air dried,” ready for transportation. There was, intriguingly, no additional detail.

But it turns out the shells are destined for the southeastern corner of Roanoke Island, N.C. abutting Wanchese Harbor. That’s where the Army Corps of Engineers has a marsh creation and restoration project. There’s no military value to the enterprise; it’s part of the Corps’ longstanding civil works and environmental mission. To complete it, the Army needs 4,000 bushels of oyster shells.

Why the Army wants a massive amount of empty shells has been a bit of a mystery. After I tweeted the bizarre contract on Thursday, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias speculated that the Corps sought to aid an existing project to rebuild the oyster population of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Other guesses include the construction of good luck charms for the Navy; a crustacean-based fragmentation grenade; and, per the New York Times‘ Annie Lowrey, “scenic, Cape Cod-style driveways.”

Not quite. The point of the Wanchese project is to create and revitalize a “wetlands and shallow water estuarine habitat” stretching across 12 acres at the mouth of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, per Army Corps of Engineers material. Among the projects efforts are the construction of an eight-acre “brackish wind tide driven (irregularly flooded) estuarine marsh/creek complex using dredged material, placed within a protective stone dike.”

The whole project, begun in 2002, is about 95 percent complete. Much of the the remaining, unfinished component revolves around oyster shells. Specifically, to “expand the existing oyster reef component of the Wanchese Marsh project to about one acre,” says Ann Johnson, a spokeswoman for the Wilmington, North Carolina, District of the Corps of Engineers, designed to protect the wetlands from erosion.

It’s not clear how many oyster shells comprise 4,000 bushels, but Johnson says the shells will fill five dumptrucks. The Corps is guessing that an acceptable market rate for that is no more than $15,000. It’s either that or Dumpster diving behind Manhattan’s Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station.