Researchers from the University of Portsmouth are playing a significant role in a major conservation project to restore the native oyster to local waters.
The aim is to reintroduce one million oysters by the end of the year to help clean up the Solent, which once supported the biggest oyster fishery in Europe. The project seeks to significantly increase the population of native oysters by 2020 with the long-term aim of achieving sustainable stocks and with the likely added benefit of improved Solent water quality, ecosystems and associated benefits for local inshore fisheries.
Today Ben Fogle, the broadcaster, traveller, adventurer and former University of Portsmouth student, returned to the Solent to help Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) – the UK-based marine conservation charity – launch the project.
BLUE has partnered with the University of Portsmouth, MDL Marinas and Land Rover BAR to roll out the project across the Solent this month. It involves using a local team of volunteers to fill unique cage-like structures with 10,000 oysters suspended underneath the pontoons of four MDL Marinas; Hamble Point, Port Hamble, Sparkes and Saxon Wharf as well as the pontoons at the university and the pontoon that MDL Marinas installed at Land Rover BAR headquarters.
niversity researchers will gather data to assess the current situation on the sea bed with regards to the native oyster and invasive slipper limpet densities. This will allow the researchers to target certain areas for seafloor management and then go back after the restoration effort and assess the impact of the work.
They will also add cages at six locations, from Southampton Water to Chichester Harbour, which contain micro-reefs stocked with around 1,200 mature oysters at each location to monitor water parameters such as temperature salinity and nutrient status over the spawning period to determine the influence they may have on the oyster population development.
PhD Researcher Luke Helmer, whose MSc project was the initial pilot study for the oyster restoration project, said: “It’s fantastic to be on the front line of such a large and ambitious restoration project that is producing some very interesting scientific results. Knowing that these results will have positive effects for the wider community is very exciting. Working with such a broad spectrum of stakeholders has given me the opportunity to explore and expand my knowledge of how large-scale projects work, incorporating multiple perspectives to achieve a common goal.
“I am encouraged by the number of Portsmouth graduates that are now working for many of the organisations involved — it is testament to the university’s reputation on the south coast.”
Dr Joanne Preston from the university’s Institute of Marine Sciences added: “Successful restoration of the native oyster population and its habitat will have a far reaching impact across the Solent, benefiting both the local economy and the health of our coastal waters. The monitoring and data collected over the next three years will further our understanding of how to manage and protect this important, but vulnerable native species across the UK.”
Ben, who first became interested in marine pollution after rowing across the Atlantic, commented that his own experiences fuelled his desire to help with the Solent Oyster Restoration Project: “My experiences traversing the world’s oceans have opened my eyes to the scale of marine destruction. The humble oyster is an incredibly powerful ecosystem engineer, capable of filtering 200 litres of water a day and supporting marine life. Restoring the native oyster to the Solent would be another step closer to turning the tide against the large-scale degradation of our oceans, and giving something back to the UK’s inshore waters which provide us with so many benefits.”
The native oyster population in the UK has halved over the past 25 years while, globally, an estimated 85 per cent of oyster beds and reef habitats have been lost. The restoration of the native oyster will provide wide-ranging ecological and social benefits for the region over the long-term by helping to improve water quality, foster valuable habitats and re-establish an important strand of the economy on the south coast.
Tim Glover, BLUE’s UK Projects Director, explained the significance of the next stage of the Solent Oyster Restoration Project: “Last year we started this project with pilots at Land Rover BAR and the University of Portsmouth’s raft in Langstone Harbour (monitored by scientists from the university) which showed that the technique of suspending cages of oysters under floating pontoons can result in healthy reproduction and low mortality. Now BLUE is ready to go a stage further. Our aim is to introduce up to one million oysters to the Solent over the course of 2017, mostly into protected seabed sites. We hope this five-year programme will have a transformational effect on the Solent in the long-term.”
Five reasons to restore oysters to the Solent:
- Oysters can improve water quality by filtering large volumes of water and removing some pollutants (a single native oyster can filter up to 200 litres of water a day).
- Oyster beds provide a habitat and rich food source for marine life and can increase the productivity of the ecosystem.
- The restoration of oyster habitats could help to boost some fish populations and improve catches for both recreational and commercial fishermen over the long-term.
- Alongside careful fisheries management it will help to ensure a sustainable supply of oysters for harvesting in the long term — re-establishing an important strand of the economy on the south coast.
- Finally, oysters provide a range of important ecosystem services that will help to improve the health of an entire waterway providing enhanced recreational and other social benefits for both local communities and visitors to the Solent.