Glenmorangie hosts oyster reef restoration conference

Scotch distiller Glenmorangie and its conservation partners are currently hosting an international conference on restoring Europe’s lost oyster reefs.

Native oysters being laid in the Dornoch Firth last year. The oysters are placed on mussel and scallop shells to provide them with solid purchase while they grow.

Taking place in Edinburgh from 21-23 May, the Native Oyster Restoration Alliance (NORA) conference is being attended by marine scientists, conservationists and oyster producers from across the continent.

The aim of the event is to develop a blueprint for the reintroduction of beds of native oysters to the waters of 15 countries, reintroducing millions of the shellfish Ostrea edulis to Sweden, France, Germany, England, Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Croatia.

At one point Europe’s seas were home to vast oyster beds, with one in the North Sea thought to have been at least the size of Wales if not bigger but they were all wiped out by overfishing a century ago. They are now one of the rarest and most endangered marine habitats on Earth.

Capable of filtering huge amounts of sediment as well as nitrogen from the water (a single oyster can filter 200 litres of water a day), oyster beds are essential for water quality and also boost marine biodiversity.

Glenmorangie has pioneered a scheme to reintroduce an oyster reef in the Dornoch Firth near its distillery alongside Herriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society.

The Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) has already introduced 20,000 oysters to the firth and the aim is to increase this to four million by 2025.

Dr Bill Sanderson, DEEP’s research director and associate Professor of Marine Biodiversity at Heriot-Watt, is chairing the NORA conference at The Royal Society Edinburgh. He said: “This is a game-changing moment for marine conservation. NORA’s pledge to bring back oyster reefs across Europe, opens the door to widespread restoration, with untold benefits for our seas. DEEP’s ground-breaking work in the Dornoch Firth proves that it is possible to return oysters to areas in which they have become extinct.”

Professor Henning von Nordheim, head of the marine conservation department in Germany’s Federal Conservation Agency BfN, added: “When we founded NORA in 2017 in Berlin, we gratefully realised the overwhelming support and eagerness of so many European partners to join this fascinating vision.

“There is a real chance to restore large areas of our over exploited marine ecosystems with native oysters, for the benefit of marine biodiversity and sea water purification all around Europe. In doing so we can learn a lot from each other at this gathering in Edinburgh.”

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