Shellfish reef ecosystems are home to unique creatures and support the growth of important fish species. They also help with nutrient cycling, erosion mitigation and even coastal protection.
Historically, Port Phillip Bay, Western Port and Corner Inlet were home to large areas of native flat oyster reefs. Large areas of blue mussel reefs were also present in Port Phillip Bay.
The State of the Marine and Coastal Environment 2021 Report looks at the current condition of shellfish reefs in Victoria. Research by John Ford and Paul Hamer tells us that the extent of these reefs is now minimal.
- State of the Marine and Coastal Environment 2021 Report
Fortunately, practical work is underway to restore Victoria’s shellfish reefs. Over the past six years, The Nature Conservancy has developed methods to restore shellfish reefs in Geelong, St Kilda and Dromana. Efforts have occurred in partnership with the Victorian Government, The Thomas Foundation, recreational fishers and the community.
A combination of reseeding and reef reconstruction has led to six hectares of new reefs. In 2021, the extent of these reefs nearly doubled through the Reef Builder initiative, funded by the Australian Government. All restoration works are consistent with the Restoration Guidelines for Shellfish Reefs.
The recovery of this lost ecosystem in Port Phillip has involved many sectors, including marine construction, commercial diving, aquaculture, environmental consultants and academia. Volunteers have also played a major role. Over 600 volunteers have contributed more than 3000 hours to the project, through monitoring of the reefs and hatchery preparations.
As the scale the shellfish reef footprints grow so will the water quality benefits. An individual oyster filters 10 to 150 litres of water a day. The project’s long-term goal is to restore 100 hectares of shellfish reefs in Port Phillip Bay and develop a statewide plan to recover this lost ecosystem.
You can read more about the condition of Victoria’s shellfish reef ecosystems in the Seafloor Integrity and Health chapter of the State of the Marine and Coastal Environment 2021 Report.