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Marine Restoration – Wild Oysters Project Groundwork NE & Cumbria

The Wild Oysters Project is a marine restoration project, which aims to restore native oysters back to self-sustaining levels in UK seas, which in turn will provide clean water, healthy fisheries, and plentiful biodiversity.

The project is a partnership between multiple organisations who champion the natural world, and are working towards addressing the ecological collapse (local delivery partner Groundwork NE & Cumbria, wider partners ZSL, BLUE, and British Marine, and funded by the players of the People’s Postcode Lottery).

Why should we restore native oysters?

Native oyster numbers have declined by 95% since the mid-1800s due to over-harvesting, habitat loss, pollution and disease. This has resulted in native oyster reefs being classified as the most threatened marine habitat in Europe. Here in North East England, there are no remaining oyster reefs.

Oysters provide key ecosystem services including improving water quality by increasing water clarity and removing excessive nutrients. Healthy oyster beds are hugely productive, with a rich biodiversity of associated species, having a positive effect on the health of the entire ecosystem, including building resilience to climate change.

Where will you be working to restore oysters?

This project will create rehabilitation hubs across the UK to secure national ecosystem recovery of native oysters and the services they provide.

In North East England, we have the Tyne & Wear hub, leading the restoration efforts for the project in England. A further two hubs are located in Scotland and Wales.

How are you planning to restore oysters?

There are two major barriers to oyster recovery: i) low number of oysters left in the wild to reproduce, ii) lack of suitable habitat available for oyster reefs to form and thrive.

To get more oysters back into the coastal system, our Tyne & Wear oyster rehabilitation hub hosts 47 oyster nurseries over two estuarine sites (Sunderland Marina and Port of Blyth). The oyster nurseries are microhabitats, each containing 27 mature oysters, which will reproduce and release oyster larvae. Over the 3-year project, these nurseries will release over 3 billion larvae into the North Easts coastal waters.

We will also rehabilitate areas of the seabed nearby, to better suit oyster larvae settlement requirements. This might involve adding a layer of cultch (hard substrate such as gravels and old shells) to the seabed in locations we think our released larvae will reach.

Public Engagement & Education

Our restoration hubs are located where there were once thriving oyster fisheries, and oysters where once a part of local culture. To reignite the public’s emotional and cultural attachment to oysters, we will engage local communities to help care for the oyster nurseries, whilst educating them about the ecological significance of our oyster.

Our scientists will be monitoring our oyster nurseries and reefs to track the positive impact our interventions are having on local marine biodiversity, and sharing our experiences to encourage others to contribute to this systemic change. We hope this monitoring will be supported by our local citizen scientists.

To get involved:

Email – wild.oysters@zsl.org – add Tyne & Wear to the subject line

To follow our progress:

Twitter – @Wild_Oysters

Instagram – @wild_oysters_project

Website – https://wild-oysters.org/