Wild Lunch: Wildlife gems in UK waters

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Until now, all of our Wild Lunch events have focused on far-flung destinations, taking us away from the wind, rain and snow of the British winter!  It's been a wonderful virtual escape, and revealed some of the incredible work carried out by our conservation scientists at ZSL. 

But, as we move into spring and the British landscape once more bursts into life, it felt appropriate to turn our attention closer to home.  After all, we have some spectacular wildlife in the UK, some of which can be found hiding just beneath the water's surface...

Yesterday's Wild Lunch event featured ZSL marine conservationist Celine Gamble.  If you missed it, you can watch again here:

Celine described her wildlife encounters along our rivers and coastlines, highlighting some of the larger residents as well as those that are often overlooked.  In particular, she focused on the native oyster and ZSL's involvment (along with partner organisations) to conserve native oyster beds and native oysters for future generations.

As always, Celine answered various audience questions throughout the event.  But there were a few left un-answered, so Celine has kindly responded to these below.


Marine conservationist Celine Gamble on fieldwork in the UK

Q. Is there a commercial oyster industry in the UK?  If so, does the oyster's ability to filter pollutants in water make them less safe to consume? 

A. Commercially grown bivalve shellfish have been identified as a sustainable form of aquaculture, which has limited negative impact on the environment. There is a commercial oyster industry in the UK.  Depending on the status of the local water quality, oysters undergo a depuration process, which involves placing them into clean water for a period of time to allow contaminants and physical impurities (such as sand or grit) to be purged from the animal. Most bivalves, including oysters, mussels and clams, for human consumption undergo this process, to ensure that they are safe to consume. 

Q. Do we have any cold water coral around England? And if so, where?  We asked IoZ researcher Chris Yesson to answer this one!

A. Yes, the UK’s waters are home to cold-water corals.  The only reef forming cold water corals in England (that we're currently aware of) are found in the Canyons Marine Conservation Zone, located off the Cornish coast.  However, in Scottish waters, there are extensive cold water coral reefs, most famously at Mingulay Reefs in the outer hebrides.  

A British native oyster

Q. Why has the habitat of the native oyster become lost and degraded? 

A. When left undisturbed, oysters will start to form complex reef structures, which provides habitat and refuge for a diversity of marine animals. Oyster reefs typically form on mixed substrate, in shallow waters less than 10 meters deep. The reefs are formed when large numbers of living oysters and dead shells form an extensive habitat on the sea floor.   

However, over time, Native Oysters have declined due to human activities, disease and impacts from invasive non-native species, so that we are finding that we no longer have the reef-like oyster habitat forming.   

Q. Hello from Australia! What’s your best tip for us to help support marine conservation science? 

A. It’s great to see we had a viewer joining us from Australia! There are so many ways that you can help support marine conservation science. A hands-on way to get involved would be to volunteer with a project as a citizen scientist to help us to collect important data, there are also ways of doing this digitally online. Another way could be to help share new scientific findings or information with your friends and family, to increase awareness of the issues our marine environment faces.  

Find out about volunteering opportunities with ZSL here.

Citizen science volunteers
Citizen science volunteers

Q. Invasive species can often cause problems to the UK are crayfish still an issue? Is this still a serious problem?  

A. Invasive species are a concern when protecting the marine environment, particularly invasive species that carry a disease, such as the Signal Crayfish. There is a growing body of evidence showing that restoring habitats, in particular habitat heterogeneity (diversity), makes ecosystems more resilient to the threat of invasive species. Highlighting the importance of restoring oyster reefs, wetlands and other habitats is the focus of our work.  I would recommend this scientific paper, “Are invasive species drivers of ecological change” for more information.


Thank you to everyone who watched Celine's event and submitted a question.  You can find out more about upcoming Wild Lunch events here: www.zsl.org/wildlunchwednesdays 

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