Fifty thousand baby oysters have been settled into their new home on an artificial reef off South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula.
Though just the size of fifty cent coins, there are big hopes for these small residents.
“Bringing back the native oyster reef is really important because the reefs are like the lungs of the gulfs,” said Anita Nedosyko of the Nature Conservancy.
“They filter water, and they also provide extra food and habitat for fish.”
Xiaoxu Li, science leader in agriculture at the South Australian Research and Development Institute, said native oysters were once widespread across Southern Australia, but numbers have depleted.
“That’s why you can rarely see the native oyster in our restaurants,” he said.
He helped grow the baby Australian Native Flat Oysters in an Adelaide hatchery and said the native species is resistant to the devastating POMS disease that has affected oyster production interstate.
“It’s a really good thing,” he said. “We can farm this species if the disease comes to South Australia.”
‘Like putting a well-stocked fridge into the Gulf’
Early European settlers were enthusiastic consumers of the Australian Native Flat Oyster, but over-harvesting means an estimated 99 per cent of native oyster reefs have since disappeared.
The Windara reef restoration project, off South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula, aims to restore what has been lost.
Anita Nedosyko of the Nature Conservancy said the project has been a collaboration with state and federal governments as well as the local council and research partners.
She expects the reef will attract bigger fish, including popular species such as King George Whiting and snapper.
“Oyster reefs are excellent in providing food for lots of different little critters like shrimps and crabs, and this draws all the larger fish to the reef. So what it does, it’s like putting a well-stocked fridge into the Gulf [St Vincent, South Australia].”
Hopes project will boost tourism
Brooke Liebelt, Yorke Peninsula Tourism Manager, is excited by the project. She is hoping it will bring more tourists as well the potential for local economic growth.
“It’s a great asset that can now be activated by, hopefully some commercial operators,” she says, “but also from a recreational fishing point of view, from an environmental point of view as well.”
Ms Nedosykosays said although it is early days, there are already positive signs of growth.
“We’re already starting to see some abalone, some sea urchins. The occasional snapper on the reef.”
“The native oysters will take about three years to grow to maturity, to reproduce, then they’ll be self-seeding the reef.”