Oysters are not only a delicious delicacy but also essential to our marine ecosystems. They filter water, provide habitat for other marine life, and support regional coastal economies. However, oyster cultivation can have environmental impacts if not done sustainably. In recent years, a shift towards innovative methods like floating bags and baskets has revolutionised oyster farming, offering numerous benefits for both oyster farmers and the environment.
Oyster Cultivation Best Practices at AOC
‘Floating bags’ are considered to have fewer environmental effects as the structure moves with the tides and avoids localised effects on seagrass areas (NSW DPI, 2021). The floating bags method has been developed in Australia and is becoming more widespread internationally. In fact, floating basket cultivation is now the leading cultivation method used at Australia’s Oyster Coast and by the NSW oyster industry.
Reducing Habitat Degradation: Traditional oyster cultivation methods often involve the use of racks or cages on the seafloor. These structures can lead to habitat degradation by disrupting the natural seabed, affecting the surrounding marine life. In contrast, floating bags and baskets are suspended in the water column, leaving the seafloor undisturbed. This helps protect critical habitats and ecosystems.
Reduced Impact on Seagrasses: Estuaries, where oyster aquaculture is common, are critical habitats for seagrasses that are declining globally. Floating bags and baskets minimise oyster farming impacts on seagrass meadows and promote the rejuvenation of our estuary’s seagrass beds. Seagrass is a habitat for fish and other marine animals and helps to reduce erosion and improve water quality. It is a food source for fish and aquatic fauna, and it contributes to the umami flavour in our oysters. Our farmed oysters feed on the microscopic plankton, bacteria and excess algae in the water allowing more sunlight to penetrate the water. Since sea grasses need sunlight to grow, this simple action by our filter feeding oysters promotes seagrass health naturally. This is further amplified by removing old rack and rail infrastructure that cast large shadows on the estuary bed and replacing it with floating systems instead.
Enhanced Water Quality: Another reason why we love oysters is their ability to filter water, removing excess nutrients and particulate matter. This natural filtration process helps improve water quality and supports the health of marine ecosystems. Floating bags and baskets enhance this process by allowing oysters to access a larger volume of water, increasing their filtration efficiency.
Improved Scalability: Floating bags and baskets are highly scalable, making them suitable for oyster farming in a variety of settings, including small-scale, boutique operations, and large commercial farms like ours.
Decreased Environmental Impact: Traditional farming practices can generate a significant environmental footprint, including energy consumption, waste, and equipment maintenance. Floating bags and baskets typically have a smaller environmental impact, reducing the carbon footprint of our oyster cultivation.
Adaptability to Climate Change: As climate change continues to impact our oceans, we are faced with changing conditions. Floating systems allow for better control over water quality, making it easier to adapt to shifting environmental factors like temperature, salinity, and acidity.
Ease of Harvesting: Floating bags and baskets simplify the oyster harvesting process. Oysters can be easily retrieved, sorted, and inspected with minimal disturbance to the surrounding environment. This efficiency benefits both our farmers and the waterways we operate in.
Sustainable Oyster Cultivation at AOC
Oyster cultivation plays a crucial role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems while providing us with healthy, sustainable, and delicious seafood. Traditional farming practices can have unintended negative impacts on the environment, but innovative methods like floating bags and baskets offer a more sustainable path forward.
By choosing environmentally friendly alternatives like floating bags and baskets, we are proactively looking at our operational impacts and how we can help contribute to cleaner waters, healthier habitats, and more efficient farming operations. As consumer demand for sustainably sourced seafood grows, moving forward with floating systems across all our oyster cultivation demonstrates our commitment to preserving our oceans and their vital ecosystems.