CHELSEA has been selected as the site of the country’s first shellfish reef restoration project under a ground-breaking partnership between the state government and one of the world’s largest conservation groups.
The Nature Conservancy has joined forces with the Department of Environment and Primary Industries in a three-year project to identify the most effective means of resurrecting decimated shellfish colonies within Port Phillip.
Colonies of shellfish such as muscles, oysters and scollops are recognised as a critical element in bay health, providing a vital habitat and food source for a wide spectrum of marine life while also acting as natural filtration system to improve water quality.
But decades of destructive practices such as trawl fishing, dredging and pollution have all but wiped out Port Phillip’s most significant shellfish beds, with marine scientists declaring the bay’s reefs to be “functionally extinct”.
Agriculture and Food Security Minister Peter Walsh said reversing the destruction of shellfish reefs was a critical component in improving the health of the bay and rebuild fish stocks.
He unveiled details of the ambitious reef restoration project last Saturday, revealing Chelsea, Geelong and Hobsons Bay had been selected for a pilot study in which specially bred oysters would be used to restock depleted beds.
“The pilot project will use native flat oysters raised at the Department of Environment and Primary Industries’ Queenscliff hatchery to re-establish shellfish presence on reefs in the bay, and is expected to significantly improve fish habitat and recreational fishing opportunities,” Mr Walsh said.
“While this is the first Australian reef restoration effort, the project will test a range of reef restoration methods based on successful overseas experiences.”
The Nature Conservancy will contribute $150,000 while the state will provide $120,000 from the Coalition’s $16 million Recreational Fishing Initiative.
Nature Conservancy director of conservation Dr James Fitzsimons said shellfish reefs were the most threatened marine habitat on earth, with 85 per cent of oyster reefs having been completely lost.
Efforts to restore shellfish reefs would significantly boost fish numbers, create more clean water and increase recreational fishing opportunities, he said.
“Around the world, considerable progress is being made to restore estuarine reefs that increase biodiversity, improve fishery productivity and filter the water,” Dr Fitzsimons said.
The Port Phillip project is the first stage of the Nature Conservancy’s Great Southern Seascapes program, which aims to restore habitat across southern Australian waters.
“Our program will focus on habitat restoration, both in the water and on the coast, and encourage local people to get involved through different volunteer activities,” Dr Fitzsimons said.