Dr Alan Cottingham flexes his mussels
Mussel basket trials Dr Alan Cottingham flexes his mussels © Murdoch University

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Micro-tech innovation aids Peel-Harvey Estuary reef restoration

Researchers from The Nature Conservancy and Murdoch University are using new micro-tech devices to assess the viability of creating new shellfish reefs in the Peel-Harvey Estuary, near Mandurah, WA.

Leading the work, Dr Chris Gillies, Marine Manager at TNC Australia said “shellfish reefs are highly effective at restoring the health of our stressed bays and estuaries. They create habitat for a range of other aquatic species, boost local fish and swimmer crab stocks, protect shorelines from erosion and improve water quality due to their natural filtration power.”

The research involves a collaboration with the local Marine Men’s Shed who are helping to deploy native Blue Mussels in cages throughout the Estuary. At each location mussels will be fitted with a purpose-built ‘valvometer’ – a tiny device attached to each individual mussel to record when it’s open and feeding, and when it’s closed. “We developed the device specifically for this research, says Murdoch University researcher Dr Alan Cottingham. “The data from the valvometers will be used to assess the health of the mussels over time and link this to changes in water quality to determine where in the Estuary it will be best to build new reefs.”

The field research will be complemented by further laboratory studies and risk assessments to assess exactly which native shellfish species have the best chance of long-term survival and reef creation in the Estuary.

Once abundant throughout the bays and estuaries of southern Australia from Perth to Sydney, 99% of Australian Flat Oyster reefs have been wiped out since European settlement through over exploitation. TNC is working to correct this situation with successful projects already underway to restore these lost shellfish reefs, and all the benefits they bring, in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria; Gulf St Vincent, South Australia; and Oyster Harbour, Albany.

The work in the Peel-Harvey Estuary is part of the multimillion dollar 3 Rivers, 1 Estuary project, made possible by the support of the Alcoa Foundation, which includes US$500,000 for TNC to combine its international expertise with local knowledge to investigate ways of improving and protecting the internationally-recognised waterway.  

Alcoa of Australia Chairperson and Managing Director Michael Parker said it was important work that the Company was proud to support.

“By working together, we can ensure the ongoing health of waterways like the Peel-Harvey Estuary, which are the lifeblood of our communities not only from an environmental perspective but also socially and economically,” Mr Parker said.

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organisation dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we focus on getting things done efficiently and with the greatest positive impact for conservation. We’re a trusted organisation working in 72 countries on innovative solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We’re tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Australia, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.