Shellfish reef restoration research to uncover the water quality value of oysters

UNITYWATER is trialling an oyster reef restoration project that will for the first time in Australia determine the value and effectiveness oysters have to filter nutrients in waterways.

The project will be delivered by Unitywater in partnership with the University of Sunshine Coast, Healthy Land and Water and OzFish Unlimited.

The restoration project will explore the effectiveness of restored shellfish reefs in the upper estuarine reaches of the Pine River (10 kms from the river mouth), at sites immediately downstream of the Murrumba Downs Wastewater Treatment Plant. 

Unitywater executive manager Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions Daniel Lambert said it was this fresh thinking that would help the water utility achieve its net zero sustainability goals. 

“Unitywater’s commitment to net zero includes an ambitious goal of ensuring all nutrients from wastewater are diverted or offset from waterways by 2050.” 

Lambert said the project would test the viability of oyster reefs as an economical nutrient offset method to help Unitywater offset the nutrients from the wastewater treatment process. 

“Many of us enjoy eating oysters but what is less known is that they are brilliant little creatures that can ‘clean’ waterways and improve water quality by absorbing nitrogen.” 

UniSC Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology Dr Ben Gilby said the University was pleased to be the scientific partner in such a pioneering project. 

“While shellfish reef restoration is a relatively new intervention in Australia, researchers already know that these reefs have great capacity to enhance and restore biodiversity and fisheries,” he said. 

Healthy Land & Water CEO Julie McLellan said nature-based technologies such as restored oyster reefs are a testament to the vast range of effective, non-invasive, and enviro-friendly solutions that nature is providing us with. 

“This exciting project reinforces our mission to lead and connect through science and actions that preserve, recover, and enhance our natural assets and environment in SEQ, while bringing value to the community,” she said. 

“Through the invaluable collaboration with Unitywater, the University of Sunshine Coast, OzFish and our Traditional Owners, we have the opportunity not only to improve water quality by offsetting nutrients but also to enhance aquatic biodiversity. The benefits of this choice will affect generations to come,” she adds when asked about the importance of the project.

Abbie Taylor, senior project manager South East Queensland for OzFish is also excited to see what the research will uncover as they rebuild more shellfish reefs around Queensland. 

“This research is going to be very exciting; it will open up opportunities for more restoration and has the potential to look at shellfish reef restoration as an offset for industry,” she said.

“It will paint a bigger picture about how important shellfish reefs are to our ecosystem and give real data to showcase the work they do in filtering nutrients. 

Lambert said Unitywater was committed to sustainability while enhancing water and wastewater services for its communities.

“We are continuously looking for ways to reduce our operating footprint, use the natural environment to helps us do our job and beneficially reuse water,” he said.

As one of the fastest-growing regions in Queensland, we need to plan today to ensure we can continue to meet the needs of residents and businesses in the future and we are excited to be working with our project partners and First Nations group on this project,” Lambert said.  

Unitywater will present the trial at OzWater, Australia’s premier water exhibition and conference, in Sydney on 10-12 May.

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