Victoria's Lost Reefs Rediscovered
Getting shellfish reefs back into Port Phillip Bay
15 minutes by boat from inner Melbourne’s Docklands pier lies Margaret’s Reef under 10 metres of Port Phillip Bay seawater. While this might not seem unusual, it is a very positive sign of the resurrection of one of the Bay’s former marine habitats that, until recently, had been completely removed from the local seascape.
Port Phillip Bay contains a wide range of marine habitats like leafy seagrass meadows, hard temperate coral outcrops, colourful sponge gardens and vast underwater sandy plains. A hundred years ago it was also home to extensive oyster and mussel reefs that supported a huge range of other sea life including fish, crabs, sea squirts, snails and sponges. Sadly, after many years of over exploitation, pollution, introduced species and disease, these shellfish reefs disappeared.
Rectifying the Past
In 2004, in our first Australian shellfish reef restoration project, we joined forces with the Victorian Government, The Thomas Foundation and the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club to rebuild Port Phillip Bay’s shellfish reefs.
With support from the local community, including recreational fishers and commercial shellfish growers, and many different corporate partners* we’re rebuilding the Bay’s shellfish reefs in two main locations: Margaret’s Reef in Hobsons Bay, off St Kilda and Wilsons Spit Reef at Geelong Arm.
The reefs are constructed starting with a base of hundreds of tonnes of limestone rocks and/or recycled seafood shells acquired as part of our Shuck Don’t Chuck project. On top of this we scatter hundreds of thousands of hatchery-reared juvenile mussels or Australian Flat Oysters grown at the Victorian Shellfish Hatchery in Queenscliff and elsewhere. Here the young shellfish settle and continue to grow, establishing themselves in their new homes and attracting in all the other species that join them in creating a fully functioning shellfish reef.
Looking to the Future
We’ve got big plans for the future! We’re formulating longer-term plans to implement a larger-scale restoration program in Port Phillip Bay and elsewhere in Victoria. Our vision is to reinstate around 500 hectares of these lost reefs (equivalent to 700 soccer pitches) around the Victorian coastline, and we hope to continue to work with the Victorian Government and other partners to achieve this with the aim of creating self-sustaining shellfish reefs, boosting fish populations and providing cleaner water for nature and people to enjoy.
* Our partners in the project are the Victorian Government, the Albert Park Yachting and Angling Club and The Thomas Foundation along with Brambles, CHEP Australia, HSBC Australia, SUEZ Australia & New Zealand, Victorian Ports Corporation, the J & M Wright Foundation, Portland House Foundation, Dow Chemical Australia, Victorian Shellfish Hatchery and commercial shellfish growers, City of Greater Geelong, University of Melbourne, Deakin University, Australian Shellfish Reef Restoration Network, VRFish, Seafood Industry Victoria, Victorian National Parks Association, OzFish Unlimited, Geelong Disabled Peoples Industries, South Melbourne Markets, Little Creatures Geelong, Mantzaris Seafoods, Portarlington Mussel Festival, Barking Spider Visual Theatre and many local dive and fishing clubs and marine care groups. We’ also like to thank Streamline Media, Kina Diving, Polaris Marine, Reel Easy Charters, MACS Diving Services, Creative Stainless, P J & T McMahon's Excavation and Menheere Brothers for their support.