Port Phillip Bay shellfish reef restoration project shortlisted for the 2021 SERA Awards

An Australian fur seal in Port Phillip Bay (Image Credit: Andrew Newton).

THE Nature Conservancy (TNC) Australia’s shellfish reef restoration project in Port Phillip Bay, Victoria, was shortlisted as a finalist in the SERA Awards which took place on 14 May, 2021. Held in Darwin by the Society for Ecological Restoration Australasia, the SERA awards recognised Excellence in Ecological Restoration Practice for projects from around Australasia.

“We’re delighted that the Port Phillip Bay Shellfish Reef Restoration project was shortlisted as a finalist in this year’s SERA Awards,” Simon Branigan, TNC Australia’s Ocean Program’s East Coast Operations Manager, said. “It’s a great recognition of TNC Australia’s Port Phillip Bay shellfish reef restoration project and the positive impact the project is already having.”

Port Phillip Bay was once home to extensive oyster and mussel reefs which supported a huge range of sea life including fish, crabs, sea squirts, snails and sponges. Years of exploitation, pollution as well as diseases and introduced species have decimated these vital reef habitats.

In 2015, TNC Australia partnered with the Victorian Government, The Thomas Foundation and the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club to rebuild Port Phillip Bay’s shellfish reefs. Since then, with continued support from the local community, including recreational fishers and commercial shellfish growers as well as corporate partners, TNC Australia has rebuilt 19 shellfish reefs in four different locations in the Bay.

“Since 2015 we have restored 6ha of shellfish reef in Port Phillip Bay and about 30ha of shellfish reef around Australia, the equivalent of fifteen Melbourne Cricket Grounds,” Branigan said.

The reefs are constructed starting with a base of hundreds of tonnes of limestone rocks and/or recycled seafood shells acquired as part of TNC Australia’s Shuck Don’t Chuck project. Hundreds of thousands of hatchery-reared Australian flat oysters grown at the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery in Queenscliff and blue mussels by Advance Mussels Supplies are then scattered on top of the base. The young shellfish will settle and continue to grow and will eventually attract other species to create a fully functioning shellfish reef.

“Life has quickly returned in Port Phillip Bay: we have seen schools of pinky snapper, little reef fish like the Southern Pygmy Leatherjackets and Southern Hulafish as well as other invertebrates which sit at the bottom of the food chain like sea stars and urchins. We have even seen Australian Fur-Seals and Burrunan Dolphins frequenting the reefs,” Branigan said.

“It takes about seven years for the reef to become self-sustaining. As time passes and our reefs continue to grow, we will see more biodiversity come back to the waters of Port Phillip Bay as well as other services these reefs provide such as cleaner water. It is a privilege to be able to bring a habitat back into the waters of Port Phillip Bay.”

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organisation dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we focus on getting things done efficiently and with the greatest positive impact for conservation. We’re a trusted organisation working in 70 countries on innovative solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together.

Our priorities are to tackle climate change; protect land and water; provide food and water sustainably; and build healthy cities. To learn more about The Nature Conservancy in Australia, visit our website or follow us on Facebook.

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