The Solent Oyster Restoration Project led by BLUE is working to restore the native oyster to the Solent, the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England and which once supported the biggest oyster fishery in Europe. This ambitious project has brought together a range of partners and stakeholders and aims to reintroduce 5 million oysters to the waterway over the next five years.
The European flat oyster or native oyster is an impressive animal and provides many ecosystem services. They’re capable of filtering 200 litres of water a day, helping to keep our inshore waters clear and more productive while also supporting many species of marine flora and fauna through the habitat they provide and as a source of food. In the UK the population has halved over the last 25 years, while globally an estimated 85% of oyster beds and reef habitats have been lost.
The Solent native oyster fishery, once the largest in Europe in the 1970s and early 80s, has collapsed and was temporarily closed in 2013. Historical overfishing, disease, invasive species and pollution from both land and sea have all contributed to the oyster population loss.
Leading a coalition made up of fishermen, marine and local authorities, scientists and conservationists, BLUE seeks to significantly increase the population of native oysters in the Solent by 2020. 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.
A number of restoration techniques are being used including protected seabed sites, ranching areas and cages suspended from pontoons in marinas across the Solent.
‘The partnership forged by BLUE, which we are delighted to be part of, builds on their extensive experience; the collaborative restoration plan ensures the local community, fishermen, scientists and conservation groups can work together to achieve a shared goal and rebuild the once-thriving Solent oyster beds.” Rob Clark, Chief Officer Southern IFCA
So far, over ten thousand oysters have been introduced to the Solent in collaboration with the University of Portsmouth, MDL Marinas and Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (LRBAR). It is hoped that by protecting adult oysters in cages hung under pontoons they will produce large quantities of juvenile oysters and re-seed and establish wild oyster beds. Trails carried out over the summer of 2016 were successful and showed not only did the oysters flourish in cages but reproduced re-seeding wild areas.
Oyster cages will be monitored by researchers at the University of Portsmouth, one of three PhD studentships co-funded by BLUE for the project. Two PhD studentships at the University of Southampton are also involved in developing seabed sites and monitoring oyster condition.
In 2017 BLUE will begin re-seeding protected seabed sites and trialing ‘oyster ranching’ areas across the Solent whilst continuing to add to cages at marinas. We are looking forward to a very productive year for oysters in 2017 and continue to build links in the area to develop the project further.
Restoring the native oyster to the Solent is a huge challenge and BLUE will be engaged with this project for at least five years. Follow the story on Facebook Solent Oyster Restoration Project and Twitter @SolentNative
“Helping to restore the native oyster population, an important part of the local ecosystem which removes pollutants and provides habitats, is one of many ways that the boating community can give back to the ocean and improve the local waters around us for our future enjoyment.” Dean Smith, Commercial Director of MDL Marinas
Interested in getting involved or learning more? We rely on an amazing network of volunteers to help us carry out our restoration work and are always looking for more! Email BLUE’s UK Project Officer, Morven Robertson firstname.lastname@example.org