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International conservation charity ZSL (Zoological Society of London) along with partners Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and British Marine have received an award of over £1 million to boost the native oyster population in Britain, in the biggest project of its kind in the UK. 

The funding was raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and awarded as part of the Dream Fund, which gives charities the opportunity to bring a dream project to life. It will help the ‘Wild Oysters’ project to recover the native oyster population which will in turn see cleaner water, healthier fisheries and improved and plentiful marine biodiversity in Britain. 

Across Britain and the UK, wild native oyster populations have declined by over 95% due to a combination of over-harvesting, habitat loss, pollution and disease. Healthy oyster beds are hugely productive, providing important fish nursery ground habitats and supporting commercially important species such as seabass, bream and edible crabs. Oysters also purify the water in which they grow, removing and storing nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Bringing conservation and industry together, the unique partnership between ZSL, BLUE and British Marine will allow oyster nurseries, suspended under marina pontoons, to release the next generation of baby oysters to the seabed. The young oysters, known as spat, will settle across the three oyster reefs created across British Estuaries including the River Conwy (Wales), Firth of Clyde (Scotland) and Tyne and Wear coastal water body (England). The project will work together with local partners to commence the restoration of the 20 000 sq km of oyster reefs that have been lost from around the coastline of Britain. 

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The oyster nurseries will provide a ‘unique window into the ocean’ which the project’s backers hope will allow them to inspire the next generation to protect and enhance the marine environment. The ‘Wild Oysters’ project will engage thousands of volunteers, from schools, Girlguides and Scouts to University students and local community groups to spread the word about the importance and significance of increasing oyster populations. 

ZSL Senior Conservation Programme Manager, Alison Debney said; “It’s wonderful to celebrate this win for oysters- they are the superheroes of our oceans. Despite their small size they’re capable of making huge changes in our marine environment.  

“Our dream is to grow a self-sustaining population of native oysters in the UK. This funding awarded by Postcode Dream Trust means we now have the potential to release nine billion native oyster larvae into the ocean, creating oyster nurseries in UK waters, work with local communities to care for our oceans superheroes and connect people and wildlife.   

“Thanks to players of People’s Postcode Lottery we hope to see healthy, resilient, coastal waters and make a remarkable difference to the future of wild oysters.” 

BLUE’s Senior UK Project Manager, Morven Robertson said; “Our oceans are our lifeline, they are capable of absorbing over a third of our CO2 emissions, but they are in crisis. Marine life populations are continuing to decline at a rapid rate. The incredible support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery marks a turning point for the recovery of UK seas and native oyster restoration. The Wild Oysters project will set a global precedent for the restoration of oysters and will help our ocean to breathe once again.” 

British Marine Environment Executive, James Scott- Anderson said; “This incredible funding award will allow the project partners a unique opportunity to bring together marine industry, science & expertise. Together we will implement a game changing solution to benefit and restore the UK seas ecosystem, water quality and biodiversity. Furthermore, the project connects with coastal communities and shares resources and knowledge to build a sustainable future for UK marinas, along with raising awareness of water pollution and the impacts of our actions on the environment for beach users, paddle boarders and anyone swimming in the sea.”

This article comes from the frontline activities of the Zoological Society of London, Blue Marine Foundation and British Marine, whose mission it is to create a world where wildlife thrives, address overfishing and protect the marine environment for the sustainability of the UK leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry respectively. 

About the Zoological Society of London

The ZSL is an international conservation charity working to create a world where wildlife thrives. From investigating the health threats facing animals to helping people and wildlife live alongside each other, ZSL is committed to bringing wildlife back from the brink of extinction. 

The ZSL engages in field conservation work around the world and educates millions of people through its two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. 

For more information, visit www.zsl.org.   

About British Marine  

British Marine is a not for profit trade association for the UK leisure, superyacht and small commercial marine industry. Its members come from a broad range of businesses including boat builders, chandlers, brokers, marinas, passenger boats and engines.  

It represents the interests of members and the boating community alike. It aims to deliver water experiences for everyone. The marine environment is a fundamental aspect of this strategy.  

For more information, visit https://britishmarine.co.uk/

About the Blue Marine Foundation 

Known as BLUE, this UK registered charity was set up in 2010 by some of the team behind the award-winning documentary film ‘The End of the Line’. 

BLUE aims to restore the ocean by addressing overfishing.  BLUE is dedicated to creating marine reserves, restoring vital habitats and establishing models of sustainable fishing.  

BLUE’s mission is to see 30% of the world’s ocean under effective protection by 2030.   

For more information, visit https://www.bluemarinefoundation.com/

Featured image supplied by Zoological Society of London.

Rising sea levels and increased frequency of flooding are now common occurrences under the climate crisis. In the United States, Bangladesh and Hong Kong, there are a growing number of projects that have been incorporating natural strategies of flood defence in the wake of destruction brought on by the climate crisis. One of these strategies involves oysters.

Mostly regarded as a culinary delicacy, the oyster offers a multitude of functions that make it a beneficial asset in ecosystem services, reducing risks for areas that are or will be affected by shoreline erosion, flooding, and storms. To mitigate floods, oysters create friction between waves and the sea floor, serving as a natural breakwater. Breakwaters are built to protect a coast from the force of waves and are traditionally constructed with large rocks. Rebuilding oyster reefs provides benefits such as ecosystem enhancement and an increase in marine biodiversity because oyster reefs offer shelter for marine creatures. 

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New York: Flood Defence and a Return to the Past

New York was ravaged by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It was after this storm that New York began applying disaster mitigation processes to redevelop the affected areas. Through a design competition launched by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Staten Island Living Breakwaters Project won funding to develop their project on the South Shore of Staten Island, creating a ‘living’ breakwater system, which helps protect coasts while also providing habitats through constructed reefs for finfish, shellfish and lobsters

The living breakwaters are constructed as 3 200 linear feet of nearshore breakwaters using construction materials that also provide habitat enhancements. In addition to the breakwater construction, the plan includes an active oyster restoration by New York’s Billion Oyster Project, installing oysters on the breakwaters themselves as well as cultivating oysters in hatcheries and other remote settings.  

While oysters have the ecological capability to filter nitrogen, provide habitat for smaller creatures, and act as a natural storm barrier, they are also aiding the return of New York’s historical ecology; the city was once a site brimming with oysters in the brackish waters, but due to pollution and overharvesting, the populations declined. The re-implementation of oysters in this environment bridges a connection between the past and the future- mitigating the effects of the climate crisis as well as restoring a historical marine ecosystem.  

Bangladesh: Strengthening Livelihoods  

One-third of Bangladesh’s population resides on the coastline. The coastal shoreline provides residents with resources such as fish, shrimp, crab and sea salt for extraction. However, like New York, the coastline is under threat from increased natural disasters and coastal erosion. These disasters are not only a threat to the ecology of the coastline, but also to the livelihoods of the people who rely on these coastliness. 

Oysters offer a solution to these threats in Bangladesh, acting as ecosystem engineers and working as a natural solution for coastal defence by protecting erosion-prone areas. Conventional barrier techniques in Bangladesh have proven to be too expensive to sustain, and seemingly only provide short-term solutions. With future projections of increased sea-level rise, monsoons and cyclone frequency, people are in need of long-term and cost-effective solutions. While not yet implemented, researchers argue for the exploration of oysters as a solution. By creating artificial oyster reefs as living shorelines, the coastlines of Bangladesh can be protected in a self-sustaining manner, continuing to provide for the population. 

In a study conducted by the University of Chittagong, IMARES Wageningen University, the Agricultural Economics Research Institute, and Royal Haskoning, an engineering consultancy firm, the concept of living shorelines with oyster reefs were examined. Anticipated benefits included climate-proof coastal and flood defence and an improvement of livelihood through practices such as oyster aquaculture and enhanced tourism and recreation. 

Hong Kong: Protecting Coastlines and Preserving Tradition

Oyster habitats have been depleted in Hong Kong due to increased dredging, land reclamation and overharvesting. The Nature Conservancy in Hong Kong is focusing on how oysters can be restored as a means of both global warming mitigation and preservation of a tradition.

Hong Kong has a history of oyster farming that has lasted over 700 years. This tradition is at risk due to impending natural disasters. While oyster farmers are continuing to operate, their livelihoods are at risk, as is the aquaculture-based heritage of Hong Kong. With the reintroduction of millions of oysters by the Nature Conservancy, reef development has been accelerated alongside the improvement of biodiversity and the construction of a natural storm surge barrier.

Oyster Restoration: A Solution

Oysters are a return to the past and a return to the natural. What can be seen here is not only an ecological and climate-crisis related movement, but also a movement of social resilience. Oysters serve as a means of flood defence and biodiversity restoration, but they also allow societies to reflect on their ecological histories as well as foster communities with a focus on the natural landscape through economic development, natural design research and traditional practice. 

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