Kangaroo Island one of 11 locations to get rebuilt shellfish reef

REEF LIFE: Mullet swim past a native rock osyter reef. Photo Francisco Martinez Baena
REEF LIFE: Mullet swim past a native rock osyter reef. Photo Francisco Martinez Baena

Reef Builder, an exciting partnership between the federal government and The Nature Conservancy, is set to create up to 170 jobs and engage up to 120 local contractors by bringing a marine ecosystem back from the brink of extinction.

Kangaroo Island is one of 11 locations around Australia earmarked for a Reef Builder project and oyster farmer Ken Rowe at KI Shellfish is ready to start building the reef at American River.

Targeting bushfire and COVID-19 affected coastal communities, the $20 million investment will expand The Nature Conservancy's successful program to rebuild shellfish reefs around the Australian coastline.

Rebuilding the reefs will create local jobs, boost important fish stocks, improve water quality, protect coastlines from erosion, and establish new fishing and dive tourism hot spots.

Reefs spread over the seafloor, covering the area of a football stadium, will be constructed in at least 11 coastal communities - from south-east Queensland right around Australia's southern coastline to Perth in Western Australia.

"Shellfish reefs once thrived in Australia's bays and estuaries, but from the 1850s to the 1960s they were decimated by overharvesting, dredging and water pollution," said Dr Chris Gillies, Oceans Program director at The Nature Conservancy.

"Now less than 10 per cent of these shellfish reefs remain, making them one of Australia's most endangered marine ecosystems."

In the past six years, The Nature Conservancy has worked with community groups, philanthropic organisations, businesses, universities and government agencies to develop a program to rebuild shellfish reefs. Early projects across southern and eastern Australia have showed enormous social, economic and environmental benefits from restoring reefs.

"To rebuild the reefs, we lay down thousands of tonnes of locally-sourced limestone rubble and recycled shells to create a reef base. Then we release millions of baby oysters bred by oyster farmers and shellfish hatcheries," Dr Gillies said.

"During reef building, a variety of jobs are created, ranging from barge operators, to truck drivers, to shellfish growers and divers. After construction, the reefs will provide public benefits such as cleaner water and more fish for everyone."

The announcement of a federal investment of up to $2 million to restoring oyster reefs on Kangaroo Island has been hailed by Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie as a job creator and a boost for the marine environment.

Rebekha talks oysters

The proposed reef project near American River on KI is being facilitated through the environmental not-for-profit group The Nature Conservancy Australia and is being funded through a $20 million environment and heritage tourism package unveiled today by the Environment Minister Sussan Ley ahead of the Federal Budget.

South Australia has also been allocated funding to upgrade a reef project already underway off Glenelg and another 5ha reef project near Port Noarlunga.

Ms Sharkie, the Member for Mayo which includes Kangaroo Island, said the environmental and economic benefits of restoring the marine environment are well documented.

"I have certainly outlined those benefits to the government and Environment Minister Sussan Ley in advocating for oyster reef restoration on KI, in addition to seeking the support of the state Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs," Ms Sharkie said.

"The Nature Conservancy has estimated that for every million dollars invested, oyster reef restoration creates 8.5 full-time equivalents (FTE) positions, creating more jobs than road developments (5.9 FTE), mining (2.5FTE) and regional airport upgrades (1.4FTE).

"These figures are based on the recent restoration projects at the Windara oyster reefs near Ardrossan in South Australia and in Port Philip Bay near Melbourne.

"The restoration of oyster reefs provides direct construction job opportunities which are desperately needed during these uncertain times.

"They also provide significant benefits to local commercial and recreational fisheries, enhances regional tourism, and present excellent aquaculture business opportunities in their own right.

"In addition, the reefs provide substantial environmental benefits, providing hotspot hatcheries for fish and other marine animals, as well as 'water-cleaning' services.

"Kangaroo Island has been doing it tough with the bushfires and now COVID-19, I look forward to following the reef restoration project during my trips to the Island."

Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said the new shellfish reefs will have a positive impact on local communities and the economy, while also protecting biodiversity.

"By investing in our natural assets, we help coastal tourism and the recreational and commercial fishing industries bounce back from the impacts of COVID-19 and bushfire."

The Nature Conservancy aims to rebuild 60 reefs across southern Australia.

This is Australia's largest marine restoration initiative. If achieved, it will make Australia the first nation in the world to recover a critically endangered marine ecosystem.

Eight projects have been completed or are near completion so far.

Reef Builder will restore reefs in at least 11 sites chosen from the following locations:

  • Kangaroo Island, SA
  • Adelaide Metro Coast, SA
  • Onkaparinga, SA
  • Noosa River Estuary, QLD
  • Port Stephens, NSW
  • Botany Bay, NSW
  • Sapphire Coast, NSW
  • Gippsland Lakes, VIC
  • Port Phillip Bay, VIC
  • Derwent Estuary, TAS
  • Oyster Harbour, WA
  • Peel Harvey Estuary, WA
  • Swan-Canning Estuary, WA


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