Oyster beds restoration project on the menu at Lochaline

The first batch of oysters will total 20,000, with the first 10,000 already in the nursery cages. Photograph: CAOLAS. NO F31 juvenile oysters
The first batch of oysters will total 20,000, with the first 10,000 already in the nursery cages. Photograph: CAOLAS. NO F31 juvenile oysters

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Oysters were once so abundant they were used as currency to pay taxes at Ardtornish Estate on Morvern.

But since the 1800s, populations of these much sought after shellfish delicacy in Scotland have decreased by a staggering 95 per cent, writes Savannah Cobb Thomas.

The usual suspects, pollution, over-exploitation and climate change, are to blame.

Even though one may be forgiven for thinking climate change has not reached this small corner of the world yet, it is silently affecting ecosystems here and causing them to unravel.

Oysters are integral to marine ecosystems as they increase biodiversity by creating habitats for other marine life as they cement together and if allowed to multiply, oyster populations can establish into reef-like structures providing protection for juvenile marine species.

They also work as filters purifying the water they live in, which particularly enables the growth of seagrass, a key defence against climate change as it can absorb carbon 35 times faster than tropical rainforests and is responsible for 10 per cent of the ocean’s annual carbon absorption.

Despite this, to most people oysters are still thought to be inert features of the sea and are more commonly recognised as expensive aphrodisiacs.

As a key feature to many saltwater lochs, it is not surprising there is a lot of anticipation and excitement around a project at Lochaline to restore its native oyster (Ostrea edulis) populations, which were once ubiquitous in Europe and noted as an important food source to the Romans.

This particular species is famed for its tannic flavouring and found to be superior
to the American oyster in taste, the native oyster now being aquafarmed in America.

And thanks to the success of the previous oyster restoration project at Loch Craignish and grants from the Highlands and Islands Environment Foundation, Fauna and Flora International and the William Grant Foundation, Community Association of Lochs and Sounds (CAOLAS) in partnership with Seawilding have announced plans to expand these seawilding trials in Lochaline, whilst working closely with authorities to ensure the strictest bio-security measures.

To restore Lochaline’s native oyster population, they must first be grown in cages that will be hung underneath floating pontoons. They will begin life in these cages not much larger than the size of a button and once they reach maturity, they will be released onto the seabed of Lochaline and the process will be repeated using the same cages. The first batch of oysters will total 20,000, with the first 10,000 already in the nursery cages.

‘In the face of a nature crisis and climate crisis, the Lochaline native oyster restoration project shows that communities which care about the health of the marine environment can take action,’ said Annabel Lawrence, chairperson of CAOLAS.

‘In contrast to all the other extractive activities that persist in our seas, this project is putting something back to help biodiversity restoration which will be of benefit to our community and future generations.’

To keep up to date or to get involved in the release of the oysters please visit their Facebook page www.facebook.com/Lochalinenativeoysterproject .

CAPTION;

The first batch of oysters will total 20,000, with the first 10,000 already in the nursery cages. Photograph: CAOLAS.

NO F31 juvenile oysters