How one company hopes prehistoric oyster shells will restore the Gulf Coast

PERKINSTON, Miss. - You don't normally find oysters growing 40 miles inland, but at one former fish hatchery in Perkinston, Mississippi, there are millions of them!

When you walk into Spat-Tech, you might feel as if you've entered Willy Wonka's factory, except this is a place that produces oysters, not chocolate.

To nourish all those filter-feeders, thirty trillion (yes, trillion!) cells of algae are grown each day.

Spat-Tech Owner, Walter Boasso, gave our Travel Girl, Stephanie Oswald, a tour which started in a room full of giant glass tubes filled with algae.

Walter explained how the oysters are like children: "When they are first born you have to feed them small algae, and then as they grow they have bigger algae they get to eat."

Spat-Tech scientists protect the oysters each step of the way, from the hatchery spawning table, to various holding tanks, to the off-shore nursery, and eventually many of them go back to the reef where their parents were taken from.

Stephen LeBlanc manages the hatchery, where he says "they bring everything to life."

"We're basically accelerating Mother Nature," explains LeBlanc.

"When all the oysters on a particular reef spawn, they lay in the water column for a very long time with a very, very high mortality rate. And what we do here is we control that mortality rate."

The key to modern day success for the Spat-Tech team is something prehistoric: fossilized oyster shells from a prehistoric reef discovered in Florida.

Spat-Tech President Chris Cannon is thrilled about the success rate of the 15-million-year-old shells.

"This shell has properties in it that really attract the oyster larva, and it's like a magnet to them," says Cannon.

He also explains why they are better than the traditional method of using recycled shells.

"A lot of people like to use dried oyster shell but there's just not enough of it out there in the wild. Even if you reclaimed every oyster shell at every restaurant eaten on the Gulf Coast, it's still not enough to touch what we need to do," says Cannon.

Boasso, who grew up in the region, believes the prehistoric shells are a giant step toward coastal restoration.

"This is what's gonna save our coast, and yes,  it's going to save the oyster industry -- but it's also going to rebuild the eco-system," he says, adding that "now" is the time to act, before it's too late.