Environment Institute

Oysters; they’re delicious, healthy, and can get things happening in the bedroom. But there is a lot more to the humble oyster than being an enticing hor d’oeuvre. Oysters create ecosystems, clean up our pollution, protect our shorelines from storms, and can even slow the rate of climate change. Given the opportunity, oysters can provide many ecological services to humanity, but we have treated them very poorly over the past few centuries. Here in Australia, we have finally started making it up to them.

Last week construction of the largest oyster reef restoration project in the Southern Hemisphere began in the coastal waters of South Australia. This ambitious project is attempting to restore 20 hectares of native flat oyster reef, habitat that less than 200 years ago covered over 1,500 km of South Australian coastline. Thousands of kilometres of oyster reef were lost from the east and south Australian coast in the decades that followed European colonisation. Today oyster populations are at less than 1% of their pre-colonisation extent, with just one healthy flat oyster reef remaining in Australia.

What the Gulf St. Vincent seafloor probably looked like in the 1800’s, and what the restoration site looks like today. Image on left is the last remaining flat oyster reef in Australia (Photo credit: C. Gillies)

What the Gulf St. Vincent seafloor probably looked like in the 1800’s, and what the restoration site looks like today. Image on left is the last remaining flat oyster reef in Australia (Photo credit: C. Gillies)


This project was born from a 2014 state election promise from the South Australian government to improve recreational fishing in Gulf St. Vincent. As the planning started marine ecologists at the University of Adelaide and The Nature Conservancy (non-government conservation organisation) joined the conversation, assisting the project’s evolution from fish attracting concrete structures to a living, growing oyster reef that will increase fish production. The potential ecological and economic benefits of a successfully restored oyster reef are enormous. But how can the humble oyster achieve such feats?

Oysters are ‘ecosystem engineering’ species. Where they form dense colonies their aggregated shells provide complex three-dimensional habitat that is a haven for a wide range of invertebrates. Thousands of invertebrates will live among the shells of oysters, providing an abundant food source for fish. Oysters help boost fish populations as some fish lay their eggs directly onto their shells, while many fish species use oyster reefs as an important nursery habitat their young. Further, the filter-feeding activity of large oyster populations efficiently clears the water column of excess nutrients and sediment, with just one oyster capable of filtering over 100 L per day. Their physical structures also attenuate wave energy, which can reduce coastal erosion from storm surges. And their shell production and subsequent burial is a carbon sink, locking up carbon that would otherwise be warming the globe.

Fish lay their eggs inside dead oyster shells Photo credit Dominic Mcafee

Fish lay their eggs inside dead oyster shells
Photo credit Dominic Mcafee


For me, a nerdy oyster ecologist, the potential to drag our native oysters back from the brink of extinction on the Australian mainland is an exciting aspect of this project. Also the collaboration between State and local (Yorke Peninsula Council) Government, The Nature Conservancy, the Ian Potter Foundation, local community and The Environment Institute at the University of Adelaide is an impressive show of unity for conserving our marine environment.

Stay tuned for more pearls of wisdom (sorry) from this ambitious oyster reef project.

Dominic Mcafee completed his PhD in how oyster reefs build ecological resilience at Macquire University in Sydney. He is currently a Postdoctoral Researcher in Sean Connell’s lab and is heading the Oyster Reef Restoration Project in the Gulf St Vincent.

Stay tuned for future updates on the Oyster Reef Restoration Project!

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Ancestors of the iconic New Zealand Christmas Tree, Pōhutukawa, may have originated in Australia, new fossil research from the University of Adelaide suggests.  Published in the American Journal of Botany, the research describes two new fossil species of Metrosideros, the scientific name for Pōhutukawa and related species. The fossils, found near St Helens, East Coast […]

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Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Spain to attend the Past Global Changes Young Scientists Meeting and Open Science Meeting (PAGES YSM and OSM). There were 70 people at the Young Scientists Meeting workshop, and the group consisted largely of post-doctoral researchers and some late-stage PhD students. I was delighted to find out, […]

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Canola Field Flowers Rapeseed Clouds Colza Yellow

Australian scientists have paved the way for carbon neutral fuel with the development of a new efficient catalyst that converts carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air into synthetic natural gas in a ‘clean’ process using solar energy. Undertaken by University of Adelaide in collaboration with CSIRO, the research could make viable a process that has […]

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A ghost mushroom revealing the veins as it glows. Photo: Philip Dubbin

Photographers and tourists alike have been on the search recently for Omphalotus nidiformis, a type of mushroom which produces a luminescence. The mushrooms can be found in South Australia in the wetter months of autumn and winter near Mt Gambier. Professor Philip Weinstein from the University of Adelaide and the Environment Institute, says the ghost mushrooms are […]

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Tahlia Perry is leaping from one win to another, following her recent trip to Perth to represent the University of Adelaide and the Environment Institute at Famelab, she has been interviewed on ABC Radio NSW. She spoke to Tim Brunero about the weirdest things about echidnas, which is the subject of her PhD. She mentions […]

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Recently locals of Port Lincoln were delighted with a bioluminescent algal bloom, the species that produces this wondrous event is called Noctiluca scintillans or “sea sparkles”. This event occurs when optimal conditions arise, which includes high nutrient content in the water and warm temperatures. Marine ecologist and Environment Institute member Associate Professor Ivan Nagelkerken was interviewed by […]

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grant writing workshop

Want to know how to write a killer grant application? Let this workshop be your guide, led by the Environment Institute’s Professor Alan Cooper. Title: ECR Network: Grant Writing Workshop When: 5:30pm, Wednesday 26th July 2017 Where: The Science Exchange, 55 Exchange Place, Adelaide, SA, 5000 You’ll never go to a workshop as honest or useful as this. Find […]

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Associate Professor Alan Gamlen, Director of the Hugo Centre Migration and Population Research was interviewed in the Advertiser recently. The article covered the reaction and political discussion population growth in response to a Deloitte report said SA needed to double its rate of population growth or face dire consequences. The Government said the population growth rate […]

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The Goyder Institute for Water Research will host its Water Forum on the 4th and 5th of July 2017. The event will showcase South Australia’s water expertise across a range of disciplines and sectors, while celebrating the exceptional achievements of the Goyder Institute for Water Research. Held at the University of Adelaide, the conference will deliver a range […]

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