The Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI) will begin work to create a sanctuary for the molluscs.
“Recycled” shells will be laid on the bed of the Thames Estuary to provide the hard surface the young oysters need to grow on.
Over the last 200 years the oyster population has suffered a 95% decline.
Written by: editorial / BBC News
ENORI is chaired by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and is a coalition of oystermen, local communities, NGOs, universities, and the UK Government.
Oyster farming has been recorded in Mersea since Roman times, but the populations of the European native, or Colchester oyster, Ostrea edulis, have suffered dramatic declines.
The recycled shells come from Mersea-bred oysters, sold in London’s Borough Market and West Mersea, as well as cockleshells from the Thames cockle fleet.
The process is known colloquially as “laying the clutch” and once it is done and conditions are right adult female oysters will be laid with spawning expected to begin within weeks, ENORI said.
ZSL senior conservation program manager Alison Debney said: “It may not be glamorous work, but laying ‘mother oysters’ at the right time is vital to the success of the restoration program, and therefore vital for the survival of this native British species.”
She added ENORI had moved more than 25,000 native oysters to Essex estuaries, as well as ensured that fishing was prohibited until stocks had recovered, since it formed in 2013.
More information about the initiative:
Essex Native Oyster Restoration Initiative (ENORI) is a collaboration between the oystermen, scientists, conservationists, and the UK government to restore native oysters in Essex, UK. The shared vision is for the Essex estuaries to have self-sustaining populations of native oysters that provide ecosystem services, sustainable fisheries, and increased biodiversity whilst recognizing their cultural importance.
The project location is the Blackwater, Crouch, Roach and Colne Estuaries’ Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ). This 284km2 marine protected area was designated in 2013 for both native oysters (the population) and native oyster beds (the habitat). By area, it is the largest restoration project in Europe.
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