Could oysters help improve UK water quality?

Could expanded oyster beds play a crucial role in helping to enhance UK water quality? That is the question the water retailer Water Plus is seeking to answer with a first of its kind study, which aims to explore a number of innovative ways to simultaneously improve water quality and increase the abundance of native species in UK waters.

The company today announced it is backing a project that will see 540 native oysters introduced at a site near Oban in Scotland. Local primary school children have also been recruited to support the study, while learning about how the oysters grow and the wider biodiversity benefits that results from their presence. Meanwhile, a marine scientist will be co-ordinate the project, which also aims to explore how oysters can help capture so-called ‘blue carbon’ and store it on the seabed.

Scientists have long maintained oysters can be powerful allies in the effort to clean up British coastal waters. Each oyster can filter around 200 litres of water in 24 hours – which means the oysters involved in the Water Plus initiative could cumulatively filter around 108,000 litres of water a day.

The trial will also explore how the oysters could help organizations reduce their water use and offset the carbon emissions linked to their water consumption.

“We’ve started this trial to explore, in more detail, the benefits and opportunities for organizations from working closer with natural resources, while taking steps to help reduce impacts on the environment,” said Andy Hughes, chief executive of Water Plus. “It’s also about raising awareness about how we all interact with water, how we can approach this through our relationship with natural resources in the future and to encourage consideration around more options to help our planet.

“Along with restoring oyster levels in the UK, to help habitats and boost biodiversity, we’re working closely with those who know how to care for and encourage the native oysters to flourish – this year and in the future.”

Twenty native oyster nurseries are part of the initiative and will be located in sea water near the schools involved. The health of the oysters will be monitored with the 540 oysters expected to multiply each year.

One of the schools involved in the project is Lochaline Primary School. Its headteacher, Louise Bell, said: “With the location of our primary school, we’re actively involving students in the natural world and resources we all see and use. Seeing the native oysters growing, along with the natural habitats this creates, helps Their development and can also have wider impacts to help local communities reduce impacts on the environment too.”

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