Restoring shellfish reefs
Bringing back Australia’s forgotten shellfish reef ecosystems
Our reefs are in real danger but which ones are the most threatened? The Great Barrier Reef off the Queensland coast? Or maybe Ningaloo Reef off Western Australia’s Coral Coast? While the community’s attention is often understandably focused on threats to these wild places, it’s actually shellfish reefs that have suffered the most.
Since European settlement, we’ve lost almost all our shellfish reefs that once thrived in our bays and estuaries from Noosa in Queensland right around Australia’s southern coastline to Perth in Western Australia.
The decline of shellfish reefs
Decades of commercial dredging, pollution and overfishing decimated these vital reef habitats, once home to hundreds of marine species. For example, one reef type – that created by the Australian Flat Oyster – was reduced to just one functioning reef by the beginning of this century – at Georges Bay, St Helens in Tasmania – 99% of those reefs have gone!
With the loss of the reefs came the loss of the ‘ecosystem services’ they provided. Fish stocks declined due to the removal of important fish breeding and feeding habitat, along with a general loss in biodiversity. And water quality also declined. Shellfish like oysters are excellent water filters so the removal of millions of shellfish caused a decline in the quality and clarity of the seawater.
Restoring the forgotten reefs
At The Nature Conservancy, we’re determined to reverse this decline. We’re rebuilding shellfish reefs right across southern Australia. Typically the process involves laying tonnes of limestone on the seafloor over which we scatter millions of young hatchery grown oysters and mussels as the foundation species for the new reefs.
In addition to a limestone base, some of our reef restoration projects use recycled seafood shells collected from local restaurants as part of our Shuck Don’t Chuck campaign.
This innovative approach is revitalising reefs from Noosa to Melbourne, from Adelaide to Perth.
The result is less waste, rejuvenated habitats for native species and improved economic outcomes for local communities.
Building better networks for change
We’ve created the Australian Shellfish Reef Restoration Network to bring together restoration practitioners, researchers and the community to help drive the national agenda on shellfish reef research.
Reef restoration projects across Australia
Click on the points on the map for more information.