on a sandy spit exposed by low tide in Oyster Harbour, Albany
Australian Pelican on a sandy spit exposed by low tide in Oyster Harbour, Albany © Tony Jupp/TNC

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Oyster reefs to reclaim their Albany namesake

After nearly 150 years without them, Oyster Harbour near Albany, Western Australia, is to be reinstated with oyster reefs thanks to a new project launched today by The Nature Conservancy and the Western Australian State Government. 

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. The Nature Conservancy is working to correct this situation with successful projects underway to restore these lost reefs, and all the benefits they bring, in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria and Gulf St Vincent, South Australia.

Launching the Oyster Harbour project today, a first in WA, Fisheries Minister Hon Dave Kelly MLA said “this very exciting and innovative project begins to deliver on our election commitment to improve recfishing, biodiversity and water quality in Oyster Harbour. The project is funded by the McGowan Government and supported by the State’s Albany Shellfish Hatchery, where Australian Flat Oyster spat will be grown before they are used to stock the new reef habitat.”

“We’re really excited to be able to launch our latest shellfish reef restoration project here in the Great Southern”, added Alex Hams, TNC’s recently appointed Marine Project Coordinator based in Albany. “By reinstating these lost shellfish reefs we’ll be able to improve local fish stocks and use the natural filtration power of oysters to improve water quality in the Harbour”.

For millennia before the arrival of Europeans, the Menang Noongar Traditional Owners made use of Oyster Harbour, known as Merrytch in the local dialect, for its rich marine resources after a winter inland sheltering from the harsher weather and living off the land. In Oyster Harbour and the Kalgan River, they made stone traps to catch fish as the tide went out, adding seafood to a diet of bushmeat, birds’ eggs and plants.

By 2020 we hope to have restored Australian Flat Oyster reefs totalling one hectare of the Oyster Harbour sea floor

Alex Hams Marine Project Coordinator

Led by The Nature Conservancy, with $1.15 million in funding from the WA State Government*, the project is also supported by Recfishwest, South Coast NRM, the University of Western Australia, the Great Southern Development Commission and the City of Albany.

* This Project is made possible by Royalty for Regions and the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund.