Restoring Wild Oysters to the Thames

by ZSL in London, England, United Kingdom

Restoring Wild Oysters to the Thames

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£300,000 target 304 days left
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Flexible funding – this project will receive all pledges made by 31st March 2025 at 12:00pm

To restore wild oyster habitat as a natural solution to the biodiversity and climate crisis - more wildlife, cleaner water, resilient coasts

by ZSL in London, England, United Kingdom

We are a partnership of oystermen, conservationists, scientists and government who came together 10 years ago to recover our wild oysters. 

The wild native oyster is a collapsed ecosystem. Over time, we have overfished native oysters to the point of functional extinction; they no longer exist in our coastal waters outside the oyster fishery.   Why is that a problem? Well, historically there was once vast coverage – oyster reefs stretching kilometres in length and breadth, big enough and rough enough that boats would avoid them.  This reef habitat generated a rich abundance of life from crabs and fish (that support our fishing community) to birds such as the oyster catcher; they probably protected our shores from rough seas.  As filter feeders, the plentiful oysters filtered billions of litres of water regulating our coastal water quality, now overloaded with nutrients.

Our vision is to restore this complex wild oyster reef to recover the societal benefits we lost with the collapse of the wild oyster ecosystem including water quality regulation and fishery production as well as keeping our coastal heritage alive.

We will use the money raised to restore wild native oysters in the Greater Thames focussing on areas where oysters are hugely important both in heritage value but through providing livelihoods. This is in the Blackwater, Essex and the Swale, Kent. 

 To restore native oysters, first you have to choose the right place where nature can give us a helping hand.  We need to make sure there is enough suitable seabed for baby oysters to settle on and grow.  We look for clean 'cultch' which is is old shells - oyster, mussel or other shellfish.  If there isn't enough, we supplement this by depositing more from a big barge.  We then need to make sure that there are enough mature oysters that are close enough together to successfully reproduce.  We call this the 'broodstock sanctuary'.  If there aren't enough, we work with oystermen to move them from their fishery into these protected areas.  We do some modelling to make sure we put them in the right place so the oyster larvae - or oyster babies - can find the cultch to settle on.  

To make sure it is all working, we do annual monitoring which may include underwater video surveys or use spat collectors.  

All this is done with the guidance of the oystermen who have been doing this for more than 8 generations. 

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