Oyster Restoration Project

Some of Australia’s best scientists gathered in late 2014 to discuss possible restoration and management options for the Noosa River.

It was the first time such a holistic approach had been applied to the Noosa River, in the quest to improve the diversity of aquatic species, such as prawns, bream, mullet and crabs.

The panel of 10 scientists agreed that one of the most effective ways to improve biodiversity was to restore some of the oyster ecosystems that once dominated the Noosa River.

Read the detailed report from the workshop.

Oyster reef

The rocky foundations for oyster reef ecosystems are in place at 4 restoration sites in the Noosa River estuary. These sites are Tewantin, Goat Island and two sites in lower Weyba Creek. Collectively, these 30 reef patches are known as the Huon Mundy Reefs.

The rock foundations for the Huon Mundy Reefs were designed to include characteristics of historic oyster reefs while fitting in with the modern environmental conditions and wide range of human uses of the Noosa River today. 

Bringing back Australia’s most threatened marine ecosystem, the native oyster reef, brings back a wealth of benefits for people and nature. This includes:

  • Structurally complex habitat that fish and invertebrates use for resting, seeking refuge from predators and for spawning
  • a diverse range of food, including planktonic prey, smaller fishes, and the oysters themselves for predatory fish, invertebrates (such as octopus) and birdlife
  • improved local fish populations as the reefs and surrounding soft bottom habitats act as fish nurseries
  • better water clarity due to the filtration power of shellfish
  • extra feeding habitat for threatened migratory shorebirds
  • an overall increase in biodiversity

Drone view oystersDid you know? One oyster can filter over 200 litres of water per day, store atmospheric carbon and produce fish every year, forever!

It’s important that we help our Huon Mundy Reefs grow and thrive by leaving them and the surrounding riverbed in peace. The oyster reefs will face many challenges including sedimentation, flooding, algal outbreaks, climate change, predation, and pollution. Reef restoration is a process of building the resilience of ecosystems, like oyster reefs, to combat these challenges. In Noosa, our reefs need a helping hand.

Up until the early 1900’s, oyster reefs were common throughout the Noosa River estuary. First Nations groups utilised oysters as an important protein source. Huge oyster shell middens lined the shore at Tewantin for many thousands of years. Noosa’s traditional custodians, the Kabi Nation, selected the name for the reefs as the Huon Mundy Reefs after a great Kabi spiritual leader.  

Noosa’s Huon Mundy Reefs are being restored as part of the Noosa Oyster Ecosystem Restoration Project, a long-term partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Noosa Shire Council and a wide group of dedicated local groups and individuals. The foundations of the Huon Mundy Reefs were created with the generous support of The Nature Conservancy, Noosa Council, Thomas Foundation and Australian Government Reefbuilder project.

  • The Nature Conservancy conducted a preliminary scoping study in early 2015, to determine if there were still enough oyster larvae (known as spat) in the river to create new ecosystems.

    The results showed good spat settlement within the estuary and the study recommended installing a number of pilot structures for further monitoring and assessment.

    Noosa Council co-funded and provided in-kind support for a small-scale oyster restoration unit trial.

    A University of Sunshine Coast (USC) project team identified that 15 sites were needed for the oyster restoration units, which were placed in a range of locations in the Noosa River and lakes.

    These trial units were not reefs, but experimental units specifically designed to help provide answers to some key questions associated with the project. They consisted of nine coir bags filled with cleaned oyster shells, at each of the 15 sites.

    USC established a biannual monitoring program, with clear monitoring methods and performance targets.

    In November 2018, the first year results indicated excellent recruitment of oysters in the trial units and no negative impacts on the adjacent environments.

    The oysters hadn’t yet joined together but this wasn’t expected after just 12 months. There were some signs of propeller damage to a couple of the reefs, and these were repaired.

    Two months later, in January 2019, a further inspection found much more widespread damage, thought to be from propellers and anchors over the busy Christmas period, and 10 of the 14 units were removed. The remaining units continued to be monitored with a second year and final report.

    As well as this monitoring, USC also undertook various other studies, including the way the way fish used the new experimental units and provided a detailed report on the outcomes.

  • The Noosa River was once full of oysters and the Kabi Kabi came from all over the region to eat here. Now they are gone. In areas of the world where oyster ecosystems still occur, they are areas of high biodiversity, much more so than muddy substrates.

    Years of carefully designed trials in Noosa River have indicated that a project can succeed. In recent years many countries, states and local areas have begun the process of trying to restore these habitats in recognition of this.

    No organisation in the world has more expertise in this area than The Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy is one of the world’s largest practical conservation organisations, working in over 70 countries, with over 400 scientists on staff and links to every major research institution in the world.

    The Nature Conservancy approached Council in late 2018 to enter into a partnership, where both parties provided $1.2M each, to restore some of the lost oyster ecosystems of the Noosa River.  A partnership agreement was endorsed by Council in 2019 and a TNC project team was on the ground in early 2020.

    Council endorsed a project plan in July 2020. For more details, the following reports are provided;

    Council prepared a report for the General Committee Meeting on 24 October 2022 and all Background documents (Appendixes to Report) can be found via this LINK.

    Construction of the reefs has begun, and it is expected to take approximately six weeks, dependent on site conditions. The four restoration sites are at Tewantin, Goat Island and Noosa Sound East and West. Three reefs have been built at Goat Island, and three also at the Tewantin site, with works to commence shortly in Noosa Sound. Read the current Project News for more information.