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Zoological Society of London

5 August 2022

Conservation project finds thousands of animals living alongside its innovative oyster nurseries 

The Wild Oysters Project is celebrating a win for wildlife this World Oyster Day (5 August) after finding over 27,000 marine animals living among their native oyster nurseries – indicating that the restoration project is helping more than just oysters. 
The ambitious three-year project, which spans coastal regions across England, Scotland and Wales, houses over 140 oyster nurseries and 4,000 oysters across three British Estuaries. 
One year after thousands of native oysters (Ostrea edulis), housed in nurseries and suspended underneath marina pontoons, were returned to UK waters, the restoration project has discovered 65 species, including the Critically Endangered European eel, the common prawn and shore crab now living alongside the oysters.  

A juvenile shore crab on a fan worm

What is the wild oysters project?

The Wild Oysters Project, a partnership between ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Blue Marine Foundation and British Marine aims to help restore coastal waters around the UK by bringing back native oysters from the brink of extinction after they declined by over 95%. Spanning England, Scotland and Wales, oyster nurseries were deployed in coastal regions in River Conwy (Wales), Firth of Clyde (Scotland) and Tyne and Wear (England). Just one year on, the nurseries are already demonstrating their value to the environment they’re in.  

Celine Gamble, Wild Oysters Project Manager ZSL, said “In a bid to restore native oyster populations, and in turn work towards the return of healthy, resilient coastal waters, we placed nurseries filled with oysters underneath marina pontoons. So far, with the support of over 200 local community volunteers, who dedicated have over 2,000 hours, we have already seen oysters have a hugely positive impact, in what is a really short amount of time.” 
Each month dedicated Local Project Officers from local delivery partners Groundwork North East & Cumbria (England), School of Ocean Sciences at Bangor University (Wales) and Clyde Porpoise CIC (Scotland) carried out biodiversity monitoring and recorded their findings.  
Celine Gamble continues; “Despite their small size oysters make a huge impact to their environment, including providing an essential habitat to important species such as butter fish, corkwing wrasse, crabs, amphipod crustaceans, blue mussels, rock cook fish and worm pipefish. We have been delighted to find all of these living alongside the native oyster nurseries we established, within just a year of us starting the project.” 

oyster conservationist

 Increasing British biodiversity 

Matt Uttley, Restoration Project Manager, Blue Marine; “It is fantastic that we are now observing an increase in biodiversity around the nurseries. Native oysters are ecosystem engineers, meaning they create a complex 3D habitat that provides feeding and nursery grounds for other species. Where we find wild populations of native oysters, we also find an increased number of other species. Given that native oyster beds are so crucial to marine life, yet are one of the most threatened marine habitats in Europe, the work of the Wild Oysters project to restore these lost habitats is essential.” 
Celine Gamble continued, “We can estimate, in just one year, the 4,000 oysters have now filtered out pollutants in almost 98 million litres of water, the equivalent of almost half a million bathtubs of water. They are the superheroes of our oceans. Thanks to players of People's Postcode Lottery, we are beginning to see the effects native oysters have in supporting healthy, resilient, coastal waters.”  
The Wild Oysters Project has now begun to see the mature oysters in the nurseries 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. The project continues works together with local partners to commence the restoration of the 20,000km2 of oyster reefs that have been lost from around the coastline of Britain.  
The Wild Oysters project received £1.18m in funding that was raised by players of People’s Postcode Lottery through the annual Dream Fund award. The Dream Fund receives player raised funds through Postcode Innovation Trust and exists to give organisations the opportunity to bring ambitious, innovative and collaborative projects to life.   

Why are native oysters so important?

Earning themselves the title ‘ocean superheroes’, native oysters provide huge benefits to coastal waters by helping to clean seas and their nurseries provide an important habitat for many species of marine wildlife.  

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