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6 November 2023
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A new reef the size of a football pitch is now home to 10,000 European native oysters as part of a landmark project to restore the threatened species and support marine life.

The hard-working molluscs were laid by conservationists from the Wild Oysters Project onto a newly built 7,500 square metres living reef in North East England, following years of planning to restore the species.

The project, which was made possible thanks to £1.18 Million raised by players of People's Postcode Lottery, aims to boost native oyster populations which in turn will see cleaner water, healthier fisheries and a plentiful marine biodiversity in Britain.

Oysters are known as ocean superheroes because, despite their size, they are capable of filtering approximately 200 litres of water a day - around a bathtub's worth - which in turn contributes towards improving our coastal water quality.

A partnership between ZSL (Zoological Society of London), Blue Marine Foundation, British Marine and local delivery partner Groundwork North East and Cumbria, the Wild Oyster Project team carefully deposited over 750 tonnes of cultch - made up of old stones and scallop shell - onto the seabed off the coast of Whitburn, forming the foundation for a new underwater marine ecosystem.

The project's newly laid oysters will inhabit local waters alongside oyster nurseries set up underneath local marina pontoons as part of the project in 2021, which acted as maternity wards for young oysters and an important pilot site for the project.

Celine Gamble, ZSL's Wild Oysters Project Manager, said, "This marks an important milestone in our journey to restore native oyster reefs to British coastlines. We're optimistic that the 10,000 oysters will thrive, reproduce and grow on the new reef and we look forward to carefully monitoring their progress over the coming months."

Across the UK, wild native oysters (Ostrea edulis) have declined by over 95% since 1800s, with the significant decline resulting from a combination of habitat loss, over-harvesting, pollution and disease.

Celine explained, "Native oyster reefs have disappeared from our British coastline, and with this we have also lost the benefits that they bring, such as providing essential habitat for other marine species. We're determined to bring the species back from the brink of extinction, which in turn will help contribute towards healthier and more resilient coastal waters across the UK.

"This new reef will give the native oyster population a chance to recover and kick-start the population's natural growth along our coastline."

The reef restoration is the culmination of three years of collaborative work to protect the species involving marine conservationists, industry specialists and local communities, dedicating nearly 2,000 volunteer hours to monitoring oysters and the biodiversity around them.

The 10,000 oysters will release the next generation of baby oysters to the seabed, with the youngsters, known as spat, in turn settling and growing on the reef, or nearby in North East England coastal waters.

Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, said, "This collaborative project has come together thanks to support from our players. It is a huge milestone in marine conservation. Oysters are little carbon capturers as they purify the water in which they grow, removing and storing nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Funding raised by players supports a vast range of environmental causes in Britain and beyond, and it's incredible to see this project now underway in our shores."

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People's Postcode Lottery players are helping deserving causes like Wild Oysters Project make a difference every single day. Read more about the range of Charities which our players support.

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