Belfast Harbour, in partnership with Ulster Wildlife, has installed an oyster nursery in the port to help restore the native population of the species, improve water quality and boost marine biodiversity.
The nursery, which is the first of its kind to be introduced to a commercial shipping channel in Northern Ireland, is located off the pontoon at the AC Marriott Hotel at City Quays. It will be home to around 600 native oysters, which prior to installation were cleaned, measured and screened for diseases by a group of volunteers, including Ulster Wildlife representatives and employees of Belfast Harbour.
For over a century it was thought that native oysters in Northern Ireland were extinct, but a number of oyster restoration initiatives have been launched by Ulster Wildlife in recent years, with similar nurseries being installed in Bangor and Glenarm Marina with great success.
With appropriate maintenance and care the oysters introduced to the waters at Belfast Harbour will form reefs, providing habitats for a variety of other marine species. This will have a positive impact on marine biodiversity in the area, as well as the revival of the native species, for which Belfast Lough was once renowned.
The oysters will also contribute to improving water quality in the port, due to their unique ability to reduce water pollution and improve water clarity. According to Ulster Wildlife, one oyster can filter up to 200 litres of water per day, which is the equivalent to a bathtub. By removing particles from the water column, the oyster can also increase light penetration to the sediment and promote the recovery of seagrasses, another threatened and valuable coastal habitat.
Simon Gibson, Marine, Environment & Biodiversity Officer at Belfast Harbour, added: “The oyster nursery installation at Belfast Harbour is the first in Northern Ireland in a commercial shipping channel and is an exciting expansion of the current drive to restore native oysters within Belfast Lough.
“The project is an exciting step in Belfast Harbour’s journey to achieving our sustainability ambitions around improving water quality and promoting marine biodiversity, and becoming a world-leading Green Port.”
Dr David Smyth, Marine Conservation Manager at Ulster Wildlife, said: “Overfishing, habitat loss, pollution, and invasive species have seen the native oyster population become close to extinction in Northern Ireland.
“With support from DAERA and Belfast Harbour, Ulster Wildlife has been able to deliver projects such as the installation of the oyster nursery at City Quays, to make important steps in helping to restore the species. This will also bring benefits through the positive effects oysters can have in improving water quality around a busy industrial port.”