Oyster restoration project passes key milestone


An initiative to restore native oysters to the Dornoch Firth has now placed 20,000 individuals as part of its mission to create a sustainable reef.

The project, in the north east of Scotland, is a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the Glenmorangie Distillery and has also involved rural Scottish oyster growers and broodstock providers. Native oysters had been absent from the Dornoch Firth for more a century, thanks to over-fishing, and DEEP (the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project) aims ultimately to create a sustainable reef of four million native oysters.

As part of the project, the team is investigating findings that suggest that the restored oyster reef habitat has the capacity to act as a long-term carbon store. Researchers are now researching the carbon value of the calcium carbonate produced in the shell of native oysters, a key component in estimating the total value of the reef’s carbon storage potential.

DEEP is part of Glenmorangie’s wider sustainability strategy. The oysters will play a key role, the company said, in purifying the water which contains organic by-products from the distillery and the local area. One oyster is able to purify up to 200 litres of water a day. The distillery’s anaerobic digestion plant, commissioned in 2017, has already successfully reduced the distillery’s biological load on the firth by over 95%, and now the oyster reef is expected to act in tandem to soak up the remaining 5%. In addition to its water purification role, the oyster reef also creates a haven for marine life and will help to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In 2017, 300 oysters from Loch Ryan, the UK’s only sizeable wild oyster population, were carefully placed on two sites in the Dornoch Firth to confirm that they would survive and grow. Housed in ballasted bags to maintain their position on the seabed, these oysters were closely monitored. This month’s batch marks the final deployment in this first phase.

DEEP has created significant demand for the native European oyster and Glenmorangie and its partners have formed close working relationships with UK oyster growers, (in Oban, Stranraer, Cairndow, Orkney, Wester Ross, Nairn, Bellshill, Kirkcudbright, Peterhead, Invergordon, Cumbria and Shetland) supporting them to develop their businesses.

It is hoped that the industry could position itself to supply the 50 million oysters needed for all Europe’s existing reef restoration projects. In the longer term, the DEEP team said, the industry could go on to supply further restoration projects and perhaps, one day, restaurants across the world.

Professor Bill Sanderson, at Heriot-Watt University said: “DEEP has allowed us to demonstrate the many benefits of restoration of long-lost reefs, and carbon storage is yet another exciting outcome of the research for the project.

“We are still uncovering exactly how much of a game changer this can be but we’re increasingly focusing our research on delving deeper into the role of the oyster reef as a carbon store.”

“It’s great to think that the Dornoch Firth can contribute as a global exemplar for helping to mitigate climate change, especially as we run up to COP26 being held here in Scotland.”

Thomas Moradpour, CEO and President at The Glenmorangie Company commented: “DEEP continues to deliver leading research into vital areas that affect us all as we continue on the journey to a ‘net zero’ world.

“Today’s businesses must all play their part, not just to protect the environment in which they operate, but to enhance it, leaving it in better shape for the next generation.”

The Dornoch Firth, on the banks of which Glenmorangie Distillery is located, is an area of outstanding natural beauty, and an internationally important Special Area of Conservation, Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and Special Protection Area.

DEEP project diver scientist dives into the Dornoch Firth


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