in Western Australia
Oyster Harbor in Western Australia ©: Chris Gillies

Food & Water Stories

Putting the oyster reefs back into Oyster Harbour

Restoring Albany’s lost shellfish reefs

The warming of the fresh salty air that has swept in from the Southern Ocean off the south coast of Western Australia for millennia, signalled the time of the year that Minang Noongar people returned to the coast. Closer to the sea, they made use of its many marine resources after a winter inland sheltering from the harsher weather and living off the land. In the bays near Albany, they made stone traps to catch fish as the tide went out, adding seafood to a diet of bushmeat, birds’ eggs and plants.

When English explorer George Vancouver became the first European to visit the area in 1791 he was so impressed by the amount of oysters living in the bay at the mouth of the Kalgan River that he named it Oyster Harbour.

Unfortunately, early European settlers found so many uses for the oysters that by the late 1800s they remained associated with the harbour in name only. With the loss of the oysters came a decline in other natural values like water quality and fish stocks.

This sadly familiar scenario has been repeated across southern Australia, however, thankfully it’s not too late to do something about it.  Our marine program is restoring shellfish reefs in different locations along our Great Southern Seascapes.

A three phase plan for Oyster Harbour

In partnership with South Coast NRM, the University of Western Australia and Recfishwest; and project supporters including the WA Department of Fisheries, recreational fishers, local schools and oyster growers; we are bringing the oyster reefs back to Oyster Harbour. We’re using tried and tested methodologies in a similar way to projects all across the world including in Victoria and South Australia.

Phase 1 – With support from the Recreational Fishing Initiative Fund and Recfishwest, we have successfully demonstrated that native oysters can be collected from Oyster Harbour, spawned in the local hatchery, deployed on new reef substrate and reach the minimum level of survival required to recover a shellfish reef.

bred in the local hatchery (attaching to scallop shell)
Young oysters (spat) bred in the local hatchery (attaching to scallop shell) © Chris Gilles / TNC

Phase 2 – The project’s second phase , currently underway, will involve all our partners and supporters in the operational deployment, restoration and monitoring of over one million native oysters distributed over 800m2 of reconstructed reefs in Oyster Harbour.

The Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development has provided $1 million through Royalties for Regions Funding, with a further $150,000 contributed by the Recreational Fishing Initiatives Fund to progress phase 2 of the project.

Phase 3 – With the ecological knowledge and community support obtained during Phase 2, we plan to take the project to a landscape scale – up to four hectares of reef – in Phase 3. At this scale we will begin to make a measurable difference to fish abundance, water quality and the productivity of Oyster Harbour.

being deployed
Recycled shells being deployed © Simon Branigan
The local Black Bream are checking out freshly laid oyster reef substrate
Black Bream checking out fresh The local Black Bream are checking out freshly laid oyster reef substrate © Chris Gilles / TNC

It’s going to take time and commitment from lots of people throughout the community, but we have the experience and determination to successfully restore the shellfish reefs of Oyster Harbour for the benefit of people and nature.

You can help us too by supporting our shellfish reef restoration work in the area.