site of a new reef
Rogues Point, Yorke Peninsula site of a new reef © Anita Nedosyko

Food & Water Stories

South Australian reef to revive the Gulf

Creating the largest reef restoration project ever undertaken in Australia

Building a new oyster reef in South Australia Shellfish reefs in Yorke Pensinsula is completely extinct, but The Nature Conservancy Australia is helping to bring them back.

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.

of Gulf St Vincent, South Australia
Historic oyster beds of Gulf St Vincent, South Australia © reproduced from Alleway and Connell 2014

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 proved to be too late 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, had become functionally extinct.

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

The Nature Conservancy is determined to reverse this decline. We’ve partnered with the South Australian Government, Yorke Peninsula Council and the University of Adelaide to rebuild a $4.2 million shellfish reef across twenty hectares in the Gulf St Vincent. With lessons learnt from our shellfish reef restoration projects in Victoria and the United States, we’ve got experience in re-establishing these reefs and bringing all the benefits of oysters back into the Gulf.

The forgotten shellfish reefs of Yorke Peninsula has been named Windara Reef. 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.

Windara Reef will be built in two phases and will involve creating a limestone reef seeded with Australian Flat Oysters. The first four-hectare trial reef will be delivered by Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) by December 2017 and The Nature Conservancy will expand the reef up to twenty hectares by December 2018.

monitoring our restored shellfish reef in South Australia
Marine team monitoring our restored shellfish reef in South Australia © James Fitzsimons/TNC

Building Blue Infrastructure

This project is the first of several identified in the South Australian Government’s Blue Infrastructure Initiative which seeks to return this highly productive habitat to coastal waters across the state. Once complete, Windara Reef will be the largest shellfish reef restoration effort in Australia. The Australian Government is supporting the project by investing $990,000 in the initiative through the National Stronger Regions Fund.

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.

"Healthy fish stocks in Gulf St Vincent play such a vital role in not only our lifestyle, but also our town's economy. Caravan parks and holiday homes are always full when crabs are about, and when the whiting or snapper are biting - but it has been getting harder to get a regular feed."

That's why the Windara Reef project attracted John's attention. "It's so much more than just an artifical reef. The Nature Conservancy is actually replacing the natural oyster reefs that once existed up and down our coastline. The fact that Windara Reef is based on science made it really easy for the project to gain support."

John can't wait for the reef to fully develop and bring fish back to the area. "Without the involvement of The Nature Conservancy, we would have just another artificial reef. Instead we'll be able to enjoy the benefits of natural oyster reefs which will have significant, long-term economic and environmental benefits for our gulf and our community. We're very excited to see how this project progresses."

It's so much more than just an artificial reef. The Nature Conservancy is actually replacing the natural oyster reefs that once existed up and down our coastline.

Local businessman
June 2017 Anita Nedosyko introducing The Nature Conservancy Australia's oyster reef restoration project.