Campaign to Preserve the UK's Native Oyster

c Stephane Pouvreau 2017. Underwater images of the last native oysters beds in Brittany France. IFREMER. 1

One of the last native oyster beds in Brittany France. (Photo: Stephane Pouvreau)

A campaign is launched this week to help save the UK's native oyster populations which have declined by 95 per cent over the past 200 years. Most oysters now found around our coast are the invasive Pacific Oyster. 

Underwater photographers and film-makers are being asked to celebrate the now very rare native oyster (Ostrea edulis) which has been decimated by historic overfishing, habitat loss, pollution and an influx of diseases. The Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) was introduced to take the pressure of the failing native stocks but has now overrun our coasts.

The National Native Oyster Network, run jointly with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the University of Portsmouth (UoP), is hoping that images and video generated through the competition will help raise the profile of the humble indigenous mollusc. 

Left undisturbed, oysters will settle on top of one another forming a three-dimensional reef structure. Much like coral reef ecosystems in tropical seas, or trees in a forest, oysters grow a habitat in which other species thrive – creating marine megacities in the form of an oyster reef. However, no native oyster reefs are known to still exist in the UK and Ireland.

Judged by a panel of professional photographers; Tom Gilks, Picture Editor at BBC Wildlife Magazine, Tom Mason, professional wildlife photographer and Nikon Europe Optics Ambassador and oyster expert Dr Philine zu Ermgassen of the European Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) – the competition will run from 1 March through to 31 September with the winners announced on 1 December  2020.

The winner will win a one-day advanced photography workshop hosted at ZSL with professional photographer and National Geographic Explorer, Dave Stevenson and a BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) diving membership. Runner-up prizes include a BSAC membership and a £100 voucher towards completing any PADI training also generously donated by the Oyster Diving Company,  a leading PADI scuba diving and travel company.

Alison Debney, ZSL’s Senior Conservation Programme Manager said: 'Throughout our restoration work – one of the barriers we’ve come up against is not having images of native oysters in the wild. Trying to explain the importance of a species to people when they’re only ever framed as a seafood dish – can be a struggle.

'Oysters provide enormous benefits in the form of ecosystem services; nurseries for wildlife, clean water and in abundance, removal of carbon from our environment into their shell to name a few. Whether you’re a diver, photographer, fisher or simply live near a coast – we need your help. The native oyster is a forgotten British treasure that needs the public’s support during this long road to recovery.'

Celine Gamble, ZSL’s Native Oyster Network Coordinator said: 'Oysters are an essential part of coastal communities around the UK, helping to sustain them through means of a livelihood. Outside of these hubs, however, very little is known about them. Our work would be halfway done if everyone could tell the difference between the pacific non-native oyster and our native oyster. We can’t simply let another vital British native species slip away.”

Marine Biologist and network co-founder Dr Joanne Preston based at UoP’s Institute of Marine Sciences said: 'We desperately need to revive the lost cultural memory of our native oyster habitat – and what better way to do that then get the nation involved in a quest to find, document and celebrate the remnant oyster reefs in our coastal waters.”

The oyster restoration work is part of ZSL’s Mother Thames campaign, celebrating the incredible variety of life below the surface of the River Thames – which will culminate in the publication of the first-ever state of the Thames report this summer.  To learn more about the work please visit:





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