Close-up of fish swimming around reef under water.
Leatherjackets Making use of the new Windara Reef, May 2018. © Anita Nedosyko/TNC

Restoring shellfish reefs

South Australian reef reviving the Gulf

The largest shellfish reef restoration project ever attempted in Australia

Using our proven methods of restoring the lost shellfish reefs of southern Australia, we’re creating Windara Reef, off Rogues Point in Gulf St Vincent, South Australia. As a result all the social, economic and environmental benefits of shellfish reefs – like more fish, cleaner water and increased biodiversity – are bouncing back. 

Building a new oyster reef in South Australia Shellfish reefs are extinct in Gulf St Vincent but TNC is bringing them back.
of Gulf St Vincent, South Australia
Historic oyster beds of Gulf St Vincent, South Australia © reproduced from Alleway and Connell 2014

A Sad History of Decline

In 1911, after a long expedition examining oyster-bearing areas in the northern Gulf St Vincent, the South Australian Chief Inspector of Oyster Fisheries sat down at his desk in Port Lincoln to report on the condition of the reefs under his responsibility. He noted that in the early days of the European colonialists, the oyster supply was obtained from the eastern shores of Yorke Peninsula and the dredging there continued for years, constantly crossing and recrossing over the same oyster beds without regulation of any kind.  This meant that the oyster beds were never allowed to recover. Where previously there was an abundance of oysters, he reported that hardly any oysters could be found and that the once prolific oyster beds were becoming less and less productive each passing year.

With firm conviction, he recommended that to conserve existing oyster beds and extend the life of the industry, all further dredging had to be suspended to enable the beds to recover.

Unfortunately, his foresight went unheeded and by 1948 the South Australian wild oyster fishery had closed and the shellfish reefs of the area, along with all the other marine life they supported, were gone.

This sorry story was similarly repeated right across thousands of kilometres of the southern coastline of Australia from Western Australia to Victoria. 

Restoring Shellfish Reefs

The Nature Conservancy is determined to reverse this historic decline. As we are elsewhere across Australia, we’re applying our expertise in shellfish reef restoration (gained in places like Victoria and the United States) to restore these reefs and all their benefits.

We’ve partnered with the Australian Government's Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development (through its National Stronger Regions Fund), South Australian Government, Yorke Peninsula Council and the University of Adelaide to create Windara Reef—a $4.2 million shellfish reef across twenty hectares of seafloor near Ardrossan, South Australia.

Quote: Anita Nedosyko

The proposed 20 hectare reef can add an additional 500 tonnes of fish to the coastal environment every year.

Marine Restoration Coordinator

The word ‘Windara’ is the Narungga name for the eastern area of the Yorke Peninsula Region. Narungga was made up of four clans which shared the Guuranda (the Yorke Peninsula), separated into Kurnara in the north of the peninsula, Dilpa in the south, Wari in the west and Windara in the east.

Restoring this reef is critical to improve marine biodiversity, fish production and water quality in the Gulf. The project will result in economic and social benefit to the nearby communities of Yorke Peninsula through the creation of new jobs, increased aquaculture, ecotourism and recreational fishing opportunities, as well as new volunteering and community education programs.

The reef is already showing promising indicators that it is on track to be a success but it’s still early days yet where colonising species like sponges and algae are dominant but we are already seeing schools of leather jackets, the occasional weedy whiting, snapper, cuttlefish, scallops and many different species of crabs associated with the reef. Our scientific surveys also confirmed oysters are surviving with wild oyster recruitment on the newly built limestone reefs.  This wild recruitment will support our hatchery reared oyster deployments improving the long-term sustainability of the reef. 

Windara Reef has been built in two phases involving creating a limestone reef seeded with Australian Flat Oysters. The first four-hectare reef was delivered by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) in June 2017 and we expanded the reef up to 20 hectares in October 2018. Over seven million oysters were seeded onto the limestone reef base in 2019.

Local Support for the Reef

Local businessman, John Sandercock, is passionate about fishing and the benefits it can bring local communities. John lives in Ardrossan on the Yorke Peninsula in South Australia.

John understands that healthy fish stocks in Gulf St Vincent play a vital role in not only local lifestyles  but also local town economies. Caravan parks and holiday homes are always full when crabs are about, and when the whiting or snapper are biting. But he also knows it’s been getting harder to get a regular feed of fish. That's why the Windara Reef project attracted John's attention. 

Quote: John Sandercock

It's so much more than just an artificial reef. TNC is actually putting back the oyster reefs that once existed along our coastline. The fact that it's based on science made it really easy for the project to gain local support.

Local businessman

John can't wait for the reef to fully develop and bring more fish back to the area. "Thanks to the work of The Nature Conservancy, we'll be able to enjoy the significant, long-term social, economic and environmental benefits of natural oyster reefs for our gulf and our community. We're very excited to see how this project progresses."

Early signs of marine life returning to Windara Reef

Please help us restore the lost shellfish reefs across Australia.

Just $25 could buy 850 baby oysters to put into our reefs.