Mother Oyster and her Super Spat

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ZSL will begin vital work to restore the wild native oyster population in Essex this month, creating the region’s first Mother Oyster Sanctuary.

We are delighted to embark on this project in a partnership with Blue Marine Foundation and Lady Grace Boat Trips, supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

This project is part of the Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI), a collaboration between ZSL, local oystermen, environmental conservation groups, universities and government groups, working hard to bring wild native oysters back to Essex.

Two people standing in front off a yellow boat wearing lifejackets

Wild native oyster beds are one of the most endangered marine habitats in Europe. In the UK, populations have declined by over 95%. The loss of the wild native oysters is largely a result of historic overfishing, but also impacted by habitat loss and pollution.

Thanks to the support of National Lottery players, this project will work towards restoring wild native oysters in ENORI’s Restoration Box in West Mersea, Essex. This project will continue vital and pioneering habitat improvement work, piloted in 2019, from now until December 2021. We will deploy 1000 tonnes of shell cultch (suitable material for baby oyster to live on) and deploy 10,000 mature ‘mother oysters’ who will spawn and settle on the restored seabed (spat).

large white triangular device being lowered into calm seawater

The Fund will also support educational outreach trips, enabling us to reach new and diverse audiences, educating people on the enormous benefits that native oysters provide for the environment and for local communities, whilst providing the benefits that are attributed to outdoor learning. The trips will be operated by Mersea Island local, Stacey Belbin, of Lady Grace Boat Trips. They will run 60 free specialist trips for young people with special educational needs and disabilities and for schools receiving high levels of pupil premium funding, enabling access to nature and outdoor education to those who would not otherwise have access.

In addition, this project will install an interactive exhibition at Mersea Island Museum, enable us to attend a number of local outreach events, establish a shell recycling scheme with restaurants, and facilitate the collection of underwater footage of restoration efforts for the first time in the UK.

For more information or updates on the project please visit the Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative website, follow @EssexOyster on Twitter or email project manager, Matt Uttley.

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