UKSA launches the Isle of Wight’s first oyster regeneration project

Published 21/06/2023

UKSA has announced it is creating the Isle of Wight’s first oyster regeneration project in partnership with the Blue Marine Foundation.

The Cowes based charity, which provides life-enhancing water-based adventures, education, and world-leading maritime training, will be aiding the restoration with breeding and growing of oysters in high densities, hung in baskets in the water beneath UKSA’s pontoons. This will facilitate the release of millions of larvae into the Solent, while also providing refuge for other marine life including endangered European eels, young seahorse and sea bass.

Oysters are ecosystem engineers and provide a range of benefits to the environment and people such as improving water quality, with a single oyster able to filter up to 200 litres of water every day. They also act as a natural defence to coastal erosion.

With thanks to Cowes Harbour Commission funding the baskets and the initial oyster stock to enable the project to get underway as soon as possible, UKSA is now registered as an aquatic animal holding, a requirement of the project.

Between 1972 and 2006, the Solent supported the largest native oyster fishery in Europe, however the oyster population has declined significantly and the fishery collapsed in 2013. Native oyster reefs in the UK have declined by 95 percent due to overfishing, pollution, disease, habitat loss and other pressures. Native oysters are classified as a priority species in the UK’s Biodiversity Action Plan and restoration is a high priority at a national, European and global level with an estimated 85 percent of oyster beds and reef habitats lost worldwide. Since 2015, Blue Marine Foundation has restored over 150,000 oysters using innovative nursery systems and creating oyster reefs, and has developed a strong working group in the Solent.

Ben Willows, CEO of UKSA said: “It’s been a long journey since our first conversations with the Blue Marine Foundation but we’re delighted to be announcing the first oyster regeneration project for the Isle of Wight with our first oyster baskets being installed in the coming weeks. UKSA is currently working through its plans for sustainability goals as an organisation  and this project is a great start to making a difference in the marine environment UKSA calls home.”

Dr Luke Helmer, restoration science officer at Blue Marine Foundation said: “It’s fantastic to be able to help others who live and work in the Solent take restoration matters into their own hands, after all it is the playground for many like UKSA. We can’t do it all alone, the buy-in from our working group and local communities really is key to driving this kind of work forward at scale. I’m really looking forward to seeing what other creatures inhabit the oyster nursery with this first Isle of Wight project.”

Gary Hall, CEO at Cowes Harbour Commission said: “We are delighted to be working with UKSA and the Blue Marine Foundation on this very important project for Cowes Harbour because it forms part of our five-year strategic plan and a commitment to deliver the sustainable management and conservation of the harbour, estuary and local environment.”

You may also be interested in