in Australia
Juvenile oysters in Australia © Inga Festima

Food & Water Stories

Oysters - nature's water filters

Individual oysters filter up five litres of water an hour…that’s enough to fill a bathtub in a day.

We all think of oysters as expensive culinary delicacies but in the early 19th century, native oysters were so common in Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay that they were a staple food source for the general population.

Not just good for eating, oysters are also excellent water filters – improving water quality through filtering algae and other nutrients from sea water. When growing as part of a reef, oysters also provide a habitat for a huge range of other animals such as small crabs, fish, sea squirts, snails and sponges.

ABC TV News story Explains The Nature Conservancy's shellfish reef restoration project in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria

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The flat oyster…the forgotten native

In Australia, the oyster most commonly served in restaurants is the Pacific Oyster, which is a native to the pacific coast of Asia. However, we do have our own native species of oyster from southern Australia, known as the Australian Flat Oyster (aka Mud Oyster or Angasi Oyster). And, it’s considered even more delicious to eat.

In the mid-1800s Australian Flat Oysters were found all the way from Western Australia to southeast New South Wales, including all around Tasmania. Unfortunately, overharvesting and catchment change led to a decline in the industry to the point when by the early 20th century the species had almost totally disappeared.

Our shellfish reef restoration project is growing Australian Flat Oysters and using them to re-establish their habitat so that nature and people can enjoy the many benefits that oysters bring.

That’s putting nature’s power to work for a better ocean.

Growing in the restored shellfish reef in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria
Native Angasi Oysters Growing in the restored shellfish reef in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria © Simon Branigan / TNC