Sunderland reef the size of football pitch becomes home to 10,000 oysters to help environment

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An underwater man-made reef the size of a football pitch has become home to 10,000 oysters in a bid to help remove pollutants from water.

Conservationists have spent the last week depositing 750 tonnes of old stones and scallops off the coast of Whitburn, Sunderland to form the reef before adding the oysters by hand.

The molluscs have been dubbed superheroes of the oceans because of their ability to filter 200 litres of water a day each. It is hoped that they will create a new marine ecosystem alongside the reef.

The project is a partnership between the Zoological Society of London, Blue Marine Foundation, British Marine and local delivery partner Groundwork North East and Cumbria and was funded by the People’s Postcode Lottery.

The oysters have been added to the reef by hand. Credit: Wild Oysters Project

Project manager Celine Gamble said: “Today 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, which is the size of a football pitch, and we look forward to carefully monitoring their progress over the coming months.”

Oysters were once a popular delicacy but national numbers have declined by over 95% since the 1800s, with the significant decline due to habitat loss, over-harvesting, pollution and disease.

It is hoped the oysters and the reef will help produce a new marine ecosystem. Credit: PA

Ms Gamble added: “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 will in turn help contribute towards healthier and more resilient coastal waters across the UK.

“Despite their small size, we recognise oysters as ocean superheroes for making such a big impact within the marine coastal environment; they‘re 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.

“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 oysters will be left to reproduce and potentially spread to other coastal waters. It is hoped the reef can become home to several other species in the future like the European eel, the blue mussel, seabass, brittle star species, crab species, nudibranchs and pipefish – as well as supporting a wider fin-fishery. 

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