Oysters placed in North East harbours to boost water quality and filter pollutants

Oysters being planted off the North East coast
47 nurseries with 1,300 oysters have been installed underneath pontoons in Sunderland Marina and Port of Blyth. Credit: Blue Marine Foundation

More than a thousand oysters have been reintroduced to the North East coast in a bid to rebuild the species and improve the health of coastal waters.

The shellfish, which are dubbed "superheroes of the sea", filter pollutants.  One adult oyster can filter 200 litres of seawater every day, removing nitrates from sewage spills and fertiliser.

In the 1800s, large oyster reefs lined the North East coast.  Oyster saloons served the shellfish to diners in Tynemouth in the 1850s. 

Oyster numbers in UK waters have declined by 95% since the 1800s and they are virtually extinct on the North East coast.  The Wild Oysters Project aims to restore numbers. 

1300 have been installed in nurseries in Sunderland and Blyth marinas. The shellfish are placed in crates and lowered below the pontoons.  These will attract other marine life and create rich habitats. 

The oysters should begin reproducing in the coming months and will release millions of larvae. It's hoped these will drift out to sea and settle on rocks and shells off the coast. 

  • Ashleigh Tinlin-Mackenzie says three billion oysters will ultimately be released into North East waters:

"Over the course of the project three billion oysters will be released just in the North East.  The aim is that these oysters will travel off into coastal waters and start to create oyster reefs", Ashleigh says.

The project has been launched by the Zoological Society of London, the Blue Marine Foundation and trade association British Marine and funded by a £1.2 million grant from the People's Postcode Lottery.

In the North East, the Environment Agency and Groundwork North East have installed the oyster nurseries and are inviting school groups to visit the sites to learn about marine ecology.