Scientists help bring oysters back to Solent

Dr Joanne Preston, left, helps with the installation of the oysters at the Land Rover BAR pontoon.

Dr Joanne Preston, left, helps with the installation of the oysters at the Land Rover BAR pontoon. Picture: Harry KH/Land Rover BAR

University of Portsmouth marine biologists are helping to regenerate Portsmouth’s native oyster population.

Experts from the Institute of Marine Science (IMS) have joined forces with Land Rover BAR and its partner organisations on a project to revive the Solent’s devastated oyster fishery.

The area once supported an oyster trade worth millions, but in the last few years the population has rapidly declined – through a combination of factors including pollution and dredging – and the oyster fishery collapsed.

The first stage of the project has been the installation of three specially designed pontoons, developed by MDL, at Land Rover BAR’s waterfront base in Old Portsmouth and the introduction of protected cages of adult oysters, which it is hoped will reproduce and eventually reseed the fishery.

The oysters were supplied by the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority, who worked with local fishermen to relocate them from an area that was due to be dredged as part of a scheme to deepen the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour.

Dr Joanne Preston, of IMS, which is overseeing the science and research, said: “It’s fantastic to see the pontoons and oyster cages installed. Now the oysters are in place, we can start collecting data to gain a better understanding of what is happening to them and the ecosystem around them.

“Scientists don’t fully understand the reasons for the disaster, but poaching, pollutants, dredging, water quality and temperature are all likely to be among the culprits.

“What we do know is that a big effort is required to restore the Solent oyster fishery, and while investigations continue, the regeneration project is a big step in the right direction.”

Dr Susie Tomson, Land Rover BAR’s Sustainability Manager, added: “It has been great to pull all the parties together to realise the common goal to restore a local ecosystem, and while we are a long way off the total recovery, it’s a positive start and a great collaborative effort.”

The Land Rover BAR base, with the pontoon visible on the left.

The Land Rover BAR base, with the pontoon visible on the left. Picture: Shaun Roster.

Land Rover BAR – the business that four-time Olympic gold medal-winning sailor Ben Ainslie created around his 2017 America’s Cup bid – devised the oysters project with its sustainability partner, 11th Hour Racing, as part of its commitment to the environment.

When Land Rover BAR partnered with marina company MDL as a base supplier to build pontoons in Portsmouth, they discovered MDL was already working on an oysters study with the Blue Marine Foundation charity.

Ben Ainslie’s team seized on the chance to host the first trial to increase the oyster population and try to rebuild the fragile ecosystem.

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