Oyster reef restoration - an emerging opportunity - (Fish Friendly Marine Infrastructure)

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The issue

Beck et. al (2011) estimates that 85% of oyster reefs have been lost globally. In Australia Beck et. al estimated that 99% of oyster reefs are functionally extinct.


Depleted natural oyster reef, North Creek Ballina NSW (image courtesy Pat Dwyer)


Overharvesting, poor water quality and sedimentation as a result of catchment clearance, urbanisation and industrial pollution and diseases have negatively impacted on natural oyster reefs and hindered their ability to regenerate. 


A single oyster has been measured as filtering 163 litres of water a day (Riisgard 1988). Imagine the effect millions of oysters as part of a reef could achieve! Thanks to the Florida Oceanographic Society, watch oysters filtering a tank of water here and here.



Oysters filtering muddy water (left): Florida Oceanographic Society and algae walter (right): Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole


Oyster reefs wouldn’t only improve water quality, but they provide habitat for other invertebrates, and fish and can also protect shorelines from erosion.


Oyster reef restoration projects have been undertaken with great success overseas, particularly in the USA.


Oyster reef restoration in USA – North Carolina Beakon Island


In Australia, projects to reinstate this lost habitat type are occurring in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia thanks to groups like The Nature Conservency, OceanWatch Australia and NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries).


Oceanwatch Australia "Living Shorelines" project


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Organisation NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries)

Scott Nichols ph:(02) 6626 1396 e: [email protected]

Funding Body NSW Environmental Trust


Beck, M.W., Brumbaugh, R.D., Airoldi, L., Carranza, A., Coen, L.D., Crawford, C., Defeo, O., Edgar, G.J., Hancock, B., Kay, M.C., Lenihan, H.S., Luckenbach, M.W., Torpova, C.L., Zhang, G., and Guo, X. (2011). Oyster reefs ar risk and recommendations for conservation, restoration, and management. BioScience. 61(2): 107-116.

Riisgård, H. (1988). Efficiency of particle retention and filtration rate in 6 species of Northeast American bivalves. Marine Ecology. 45: 217-223.


Gillies C.L., Creighton C., and McLeod IM (Eds) (2015) Shellfish reef habitats: a synopsis to underpin the repair and conservation of Australia’s environmentally, socially and economically important bays and estuaries. Report to the National Environmental Science Programme, Marine Biodiversity Hub. Centre for Tropical Water and Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) Publication, James Cook University, Townsville, 68 pp.

Sheehan, M. Oceans and Coasts - Shellfish reefs at risk (webpage article):


Shellfish reef restoration - a community of restoration practitioners, researchers, educators and general shellfish enthusiasts that are raising awareness and advocating for shellfish reef restoration in Australia.


Sydney Harbour OceanWatch project


TNC in Port Phillip Bay and elsewhere





Oyster reef restoration in Moreton Bay managed by Healthy Land and Water (Qld): 





WA project


SA project



ABC News story “Last known native oyster reef provides blueprint for reef restoration project”


USA – Chesapeake Bay



USA - Swan Island Oyster Sanctuary 2017 — Part of the Senator Jean Preston Oyster Sanctuary Network


USA - Living Shorelines Academy


North Carolina Coastal Federation