Oysters play a key role in the ecology of estuaries as a result of their efficient filtration capacity, which assists in the maintenance of water clarity and aquatic ecosystems. Oysters are often referred to as the ‘canaries’ of our catchments, as healthy oysters reflect healthy estuaries. Therefore the oyster industry is a key indicator of the health and performance of our estuaries and important stewards of these environments. The industry is required to regularly monitor oyster/water quality as part of the intensive Shellfish Quality Assurance Program (SQAP) (valued at $17,000 - $43,000 depending on the estuary). The industry’s diligence with this monitoring program means that any unexpected event entering the waterbody can be quickly identified and managed accordingly.
Value-adding onto the SQAP, oysters are being used in an innovative estuarine monitoring program that Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority and researchers at the Shoalhaven Marine and Freshwater Centre are undertaking in direct partnership with the oyster industry. Using commercial automated oyster graders (already in use in the industry and tested as potential monitoring tools) pilot trials have been monitoring oyster growth and mortality at different locations within NSW estuaries for a year (May 2010 to 2011).
Through the surveillance of growth and mortality in different growing areas of an estuary, sites can be characterised and changes in performance identified. This information is currently being linked to existing environmental data collected by the oyster industry and other estuarine/catchment managers. The information on husbandry techniques and environmental conditions can be used to improve management operations for the industry. More importantly this information can be used by other stakeholders and managers interested in understanding the health of our estuaries as oysters can be used as bioindicators of these aquatic systems. This monitoring program is an innovative example of a cooperative partnership where effort and cost by different groups/agencies is maximised to achieve estuary wide benefits.