The Solent Oyster Restoration Project aims to restore the native or European flat oyster population on a large scale. Between 1972 and 2006, the Solent supported the largest native oyster fishery in Europe. In 1978, 450 vessels were involved in oyster fishing and 15 million oysters were removed in that year alone. However, since this peak, the oyster population has declined significantly and in 2013 the fishery collapsed.
Oysters are ‘ecosystem engineers’ and beds contribute substantially to inshore shallow biodiversity and provide protection and nursery grounds for juvenile fish and other species. Oysters are also filter feeders, and clean waterways removing impurities such as nitrogen. Globally, an estimated 85% of oyster beds and reef habitats have been lost, making oyster beds/reefs the world’s most imperilled marine habitat.
BLUE hopes to reseed the Solent with millions of oysters over the next five years using several techniques to restore the oyster bed habitat in the Solent in collaboration with fishermen, marine and local authorities, scientists and conservationists. The overall aim of BLUE’s flagship oyster restoration project is to restore the status of the native oyster in Solent waters so that a healthy, self-sustaining population will improve ecosystem health, increase biodiversity and enhance water quality.
So far, over 25,000 native oysters have been restored through a broodstock programme in partnership with the University of Portsmouth and MDL Marinas. This has greatly increased the number of breeding oysters in the area, facilitating the release of millions of larvae into the Solent in 2017. In addition to this, the cages have been shown to provide a refuge for other marine life, with 96 different species having been found living within the cages so far.
In late 2018, BLUE began its seabed restoration work. A total of 45,000 oysters have been restored to the seabed, making the project the largest of its kind in the UK. Native oyster beds can provide several key functions that benefit the natural environment:
- Oysters improve water quality by filtering large volumes of water, removing pollutants in the process. A single native oyster can filter up to 200 litres of water a day.
- Oyster beds provide habitat and rich food source for marine life and can increase the health and productivity of the ecosystem.
- Alongside careful fisheries management, restoration will help to ensure a sustainable supply of oysters for harvesting in the long term, re-establishing an important strand of the local economy and heritage of the South Coast.
The oysters’ value in enhancing biodiversity has been vividly demonstrated by the 96 species that have now been found during monitoring. Species found include critically endangered European eels, juvenile spiny seahorse and sea bass. The marina pontoons provide an easily accessible platform for education and citizen science and over 140 volunteers have already helped BLUE collect invaluable data.
“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
“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 our Project Coordinator, Jacob Kean-Hammerson email@example.com to find out more.