Unitywater is trialling an oyster reef restoration project, for the first time in Australia, to determine the effectiveness of oysters in filtering nutrients in waterways and to assist Unitywater in achieving its net zero sustainability goals.

The restoration project – in partnership with the University of Sunshine Coast, Healthy Land and Water, and OzFish Unlimited – will explore the effectiveness of restored shellfish reefs in the upper estuarine reaches of the Pine River (10km from the river mouth), at sites immediately downstream of Unitywater’s Murrumba Downs Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Unitywater Executive Manager Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions, Daniel Lambert, said it was this fresh thinking that would help the water utility achieve its’ net zero sustainability goals.

“Unitywater’s commitment to net zero includes an ambitious goal of ensuring all nutrients from wastewater are diverted or offset from waterways by 2050,” Mr Lambert said.

Mr Lambert said the project would test the viability of oyster reefs as an economical nutrient offset method to help Unitywater offset the nutrients following the wastewater treatment process.

“Many of us enjoy eating oysters but what is less known is that they are brilliant little creatures that can ‘clean’ waterways and improve water quality by absorbing nitrogen,” Mr Lambert said.

UniSC Senior Lecturer in Animal Ecology, Dr Ben Gilby, said the University was pleased to be the scientific partner in such a pioneering project.

“While shellfish reef restoration is a relatively new intervention in Australia, researchers already know that these reefs have great capacity to enhance and restore biodiversity and fisheries,” Dr Gilby said.  

Healthy Land & Water CEO, Julie McLellan, said nature-based technologies such as restored oyster reefs are a testament to the vast range of effective, non-invasive, and enviro-friendly solutions that nature is providing us with.

“This exciting project reinforces our mission to lead and connect through science and actions that preserve, recover, and enhance our natural assets and environment in SEQ, while bringing value to the community,” Ms McLellan said.

“Through the invaluable collaboration with Unitywater, the University of Sunshine Coast, OzFish and our Traditional Owners, we have the opportunity not only to improve water quality by offsetting nutrients but also to enhance aquatic biodiversity. The benefits of this choice will affect generations to come.”

OzFish Senior Project Manager for South East Queensland, Abbie Taylor, is also excited to see what the research will uncover as they rebuild more shellfish reefs around Queensland.

“This research is going to be very exciting; it will open up opportunities for more restoration and has the potential to look at shellfish reef restoration as an offset for industry,” Ms Taylor said.

“It will paint a bigger picture about how important shellfish reefs are to our ecosystem and give real data to showcase the work they do in filtering nutrients.”

Mr Lambert said Unitywater was committed to sustainability while enhancing water and wastewater services for its communities.

“We are continuously looking for ways to reduce our operating footprint, use the natural environment to help us do our job and beneficially reuse water,” Mr Lambert said.

As one of the fastest-growing regions in Australia  we need to plan today to ensure we can continue to meet the needs of residents and businesses now and in the future and we are excited to be working with our project partners and First Nations group on this project.”

Unitywater will present the trial at Ozwater, Australia’s premier water exhibition and conference, in Sydney on 10–12 May 2023.

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