NATIVE OYSTERS AND THE STORY SO FAR
HOW THE PROJECT WAS BORN
Native oysters* are “ecosystem engineers”, filtering and cleaning water, sequestering carbon and contributing substantially to inshore biodiversity by creating reefs that become fish spawning grounds and nurseries. Once native oysters were common and the food of the masses. In the Firth of Forth for example, 60 million were harvested annually, but now, globally, an estimated 85% of native oyster beds have disappeared, making these vital organisms some of the most imperiled marine creatures. In recognition of their importance for ecosystem health, efforts are now being made to restore native oysters worldwide. In Scotland, at the Dornoch Firth on the east coast, Glenmorangie Whisky is running the DEEP project and you can find more about this and other UK restoration projects by visiting the UK Native Oyster Network.
Meanwhile, in 2016, the Craignish community formed the volunteer group, CROMACH (Craignish Restoration of Marine and Coastal Habitat). It is dedicated to promoting, protecting and restoring the well-being of the local marine environment. Loch Craignish lies just outside the Loch Sunart – Loch Sween Marine Protected Area for flapper skate and inside the Argyll Hope Spot.
In 2019, CROMACH secured a small SeaChangers grant for a pilot study to establish whether native oysters that were once abundant in the loch could be re-established. While a few native oysters remain at the margins of the loch, the bulk of the population have been wiped out by a combination of disease, dredging and pollution.
The project secured a licence from Marine Scotland and worked closely with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to ensure the implementation of strict biosecurity protocols, and in May we introduced a thousand juvenile oysters in gabion cages to see how they prospered. They did well, and the project for large scale restoration was born.
In 2020, we formed the charity Seawilding and applied to the National Lottery Heritage Fund for a grant for a five-year project to grow up to 1 million juvenile native oysters in floating baskets for translocation to trial seabed sites around Loch Craignish.
The project has partnered with Heart of Argyll Wildlife Organisation, a local environmental charity, to deliver on-site citizen science to five primary schools using mature native oysters suspended in cages from pontoons suspended at the Ardfern Yacht Centre. Meanwhile students from the the Scottish Association of Marine Sciences (SAMS) and the School of Aquaculture, Stirling University will research, monitor and survey our restoration efforts.
In March 2020, the National Lottery Heritage Fund awarded Seawilding a grant for the Loch Craignish Native Oyster Restoration Project. The first hatchery-raised native oysters will be introduced to the Loch in the summer of 2020.
* The native oyster (Ostrea Edulis) is distinct from the oysters which you normally buy in fishmongers and restaurants. These are non-native Pacific oysters (Crassostrea Gigas) and are grown commercially in farms. The native oyster is more slow-growing and generally a far superior beast.
Here is a map of all the protected areas that currently exist around the Loch Craignish Native Oyster Restoration Project. The turquoise areas are the newly formed Argyll Hope Spot.
Loch Craignish Oyster Restoration Project