Octobers BIG news!
Our first 60,000 native oysters are now on the seabed in Loch Craignish, thanks to lots of brilliant (socially distanced) volunteers. At low spring tide, the oysters were placed onto four suitable sites where we will monitor their progress closely over the winter. We've now received another 100,000 juvenile native oysters which are over wintering in our floating nursery. We don't expect these to grow much over the winter, but having them there, will give us (and them) a good head start next spring. Again, thanks to everyone! We are leading the way in community-led marine habitat restoration.
mid October 2020
Our 60,000 native oysters in our floating nursery have grown incredibly well. We have seen NO mortality, and most of them have trebled in size (at least) in the last three months. This means our nursery site is spot-on in terms of nutrition etc. and a perfect place to be growing young oysters for restoration. It now means that we are ready to put them on the seabed. Over the last few weeks some brilliant volunteers have been surveying likely sites around Loch Craignish to find good places to put them back. The sites have to be sheltered with the right substrate – gravel with old shell, especially native oyster, cockle and horse mussel. We’ve identified six large sites from Dunvulaig Bay down to the head of the lagoon, and this Saturday and Sunday, at low spring tide, we will be broadcasting the oysters onto the seabed, and conducting on-the-spot quadrat surveys. Once the oysters are out of the nursery and in their rightful habitat, we’ll bring in another 70,000 which will overwinter in the floating nursery. This is exciting times for marine habitat restoration – our community project, the first of its kind in the UK, is leading the way!
Here are members of the Craignish community surveying the seabed in preparation for putting down our first 60,000 juvenile native oysters, hopefully this year, once we have all the necessary licences in place. We've found a few native oysters in the Loch. Not enough to be a sustainable population, but excellent evidence to show that we are restoring them to the right place! Meanwhile the juvenile native oysters growing in our nursery have almost doubled in size. They are doing VERY well!
It’s the end of July, and a gorgeous morning in Argyll and a crowd of us, of all ages, are gathered around polystyrene boxes on the beach at Loch Craignish, Argyll. There’s a triumphant, expectant mood. A drone whirrs overhead, camera’s snap, and we’re off – loading the boxes into two boats, and heading out with our precious, much-talked-about cargo, into the calm waters of the Loch.
Inside the boxes are 60,000 juvenile native oysters, delivered that morning by Royal Mail, from a Morecambe Bay hatchery. They’re about 8 months old, each the size of a thumbnail, and they’re going to be loaded into rafts of floating baskets secured to a 170 metre longline anchored in a sheltered bay.
We have to move quickly as the oysters have been out of the water for nearly 24 hours, and at 4 pence each, we can’t to afford to lose any of the precious stock. The kids on the boat are eager to help. Amid squeals of excitement as sucker fish, star fish and sea lice come up with the cages, we fill each of the baskets with approximately 500 oysters and drop the cages back in the water. Meanwhile, from the bow of the boat, a movie camera from Scotland, The Big Picture, films this milestone moment. Finally, after two years of development, Scotland’s first community-led marine habitat restoration project is getting under way.
Over the next five years, we plan to grow up to 1 million baby native oysters in floating baskets, and when they’re 50p size we’ll introduce them to the seabed to restore the oyster reefs that were once prevalent in Loch Craignish. Oysters are eco-system engineers, filtering and cleaning the water, and building complex reefs that become fish spawning grounds and nurseries, and havens for bio-diversity.
In mid-august, local divers and snorkellers will survey the seabed to look for safe, suitable places for our oyster restoration, and next spring, with the help of our academic partners from SAMS and Stirling University we’ll start to recreate the reefs. Meanwhile, we’ll be taking in another 100,000 juvenile oysters soon, all of which need monitoring, grading and keeping predator-free.
It’s been two years of development to get to this stage. Fortunately, we now have a National Lottery Grant covering the costs. It would have been impossible otherwise. For all that the Scottish Government promotes healthy seas, practical marine conservation is hard. It’s a long slog getting the permissions and licences, and the tortuous bureaucratic process is almost designed to put off the faint-hearted. But now that our oysters are going in the water, we’re in a good position to help other communities wanting to do the same. The problem is there’s too much talk about marine conservation – we need to get on and do it. We need more habitat restoration projects, more No Take Zones, and a Three Mile Limit to keep out destructive bottom dredging and bottom trawling. The health of our seas and future coastal fishing jobs depend on it. Moreover, it would be a huge achievement to get the unprotected Loch Craignish designated as a Marine Protected Area for community-led habitat restoration and regenerative aquaculture. It’s an exciting prospect! Maybe scallop ranching and seaweed next?
Our first five oyster hoisters with nearly three hundred oysters have been suspended off the pontoons at the Ardfern Yacht Centre! Each hoister has been individually sponsored by local boat owners – a big cheer to them. The young oysters are about the size of a 50p piece and by the time they mature in 2-3 years’ time, they'll filter and clean, individually, up to 200 litres of water a day helping to keep the local marine environment healthy. In addition, they’ll soon spawn and release spat, helping with our wider efforts to restore 1 million native oysters to Loch Craignish waters.
Our project partner Heart of Argyll Wildlife Organisation and pupils from local primary schools will monitor and maintain the oysters, measuring their growth rates and the biodiversity in the hoisters.
We want to suspend many more oyster hoisters at AYC. By sponsoring you become an active partner in our community-led native oyster restoration project. So, please get in touch with email@example.com
Despite Covid19, we’re pulling out all the stops to get the project up and running in the summer. Currently, we are sourcing equipment and waiting for our marine aquaculture planning permission from Argyll and Bute Council which will allow us to grow juvenile native oysters in floating baskets. In July, we hope to get the small oyster farm off Eilean Buidhe installed, and introduce 150,000 juvenile native oysters that have been spawned from disease-free Scottish brood-stock at the Morecambe Bay Hatchery. These will be grown in baskets until they’re big enough to be moved to the trail seabed sites on Loch Craignish.
In late April, we took a peek at our pilot project native oysters growing in a gabion cage on the seabed off Eilean Buidhe to see how they fared over the winter. They’ve grown a lot! We counted 326 alive with a 20% mortality rate - normal for young native oysters which are notoriously vulnerable in early life. There were lots of other species too - butterfish, scorpion fish, squat lobsters, starfish and baby crabs. In the close-up (picture below), you’ll see oyster spat growing on the shells. John Hamilton, our oyster guru, identified these as saddle oysters which grow up to 60mm. They happily co-exist with natives in the wild and are a sign of a healthy eco-system.
One of the challenges of the restoration project, and a subject for more research, is where to place the juvenile oysters on the seabed to recreate the historic beds. We know where some of them used to be, and where a few remnant oysters still cling on. However, recently, we’ve made an important discovery in the Craignish Estate papers. In 1958, the Crown Estate gave William Younger a nine-year lease to dredge native oysters outside Dunvullaig Bay. The accompanying chart clearly marks the bed, although we believe no dredging ever took place. This is invaluable information and soon we hope to dive the site to see what can be found.