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

UNITYWATER is conducting a pioneering trial of an oyster reef restoration project in Australia. This initiative aims to assess and quantify the value and efficiency of oysters in filtering nutrients in waterways, a first-of-its-kind study in the country.

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

The restoration project will investigate the efficiency of rehabilitated shellfish reefs in the upper estuarine areas of the Pine River, specifically located 10 kilometers away from the river mouth. The selected sites for this study are situated directly downstream of the Murrumba Downs Wastewater Treatment Plant.

According to Daniel Lambert, the executive manager of Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions at Unitywater, this innovative approach will play a pivotal role in helping the water utility attain its net-zero sustainability objectives.

Unitywater is dedicated to achieving net-zero targets and has set an ambitious goal of redirecting or offsetting all nutrients from wastewater away from waterways by 2050.

Lambert expressed that the project will assess the feasibility of utilizing oyster reefs as a cost-effective method to offset nutrients derived from the wastewater treatment process. This initiative aims to support Unitywater in effectively managing and offsetting these nutrients.

“Oysters are not only a culinary delight but also remarkable organisms that possess the ability to enhance water quality by absorbing nitrogen, a fact that is often overlooked,” Lambert explained.

Dr. Ben Gilby, Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology at the University of Sunshine Coast (UniSC), expressed his satisfaction at being the scientific collaborator in this groundbreaking project. He stated that while shellfish reef restoration is a relatively recent endeavor in Australia, researchers have already discovered the immense potential of these reefs to promote and restore biodiversity and fisheries.

Julie McLellan, CEO of Healthy Land & Water, highlighted the significance of nature-based technologies, including restored oyster reefs. She emphasized that these solutions are a testament to the wide array of effective, non-invasive, and environmentally friendly approaches that nature offers us. McLellan stated:

“This captivating project aligns perfectly with our mission to take the lead and foster connections through scientific research and practical measures that safeguard, restore, and enrich our natural resources and environment in the South East Queensland region. Furthermore, it brings tangible benefits to the community.”

When asked about the project’s significance, McLellan emphasized the tremendous value of collaboration between Unitywater, the University of Sunshine Coast, OzFish, and Traditional Owners. She highlighted that this endeavor presents a unique opportunity to not only enhance water quality by offsetting nutrients but also to enrich aquatic biodiversity. McLellan further stated that the positive outcomes of this project will have a lasting impact on future generations.

“This project will provide a comprehensive understanding of the vital role shellfish reefs play in our ecosystem and offer concrete data to demonstrate their efficacy in filtering nutrients,” McLellan explained.

Lambert affirmed Unitywater’s dedication to sustainability while simultaneously enhancing water and wastewater services for the communities it serves.

“We are constantly seeking opportunities to minimize our operational impact, harness the power of the natural environment, and responsibly recycle water. As one of the fastest-growing regions in Queensland, it is crucial that we proactively plan for the future to fulfill the requirements of our residents and businesses. We are thrilled to collaborate with our project partners and the First Nations group on this initiative.”