barge under bridge
Barge at Port Stephens 70 Tonnes of reef material headed to the build. © Jay Maartensz

Restoring shellfish reefs

Port Stephens leading shellfish reef restoration

Restoring shellfish reefs in NSW

The Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park is home to a diverse range of landscapes including stunning beaches, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds, which support a range of ecosystems and wildlife.

Like much of Australia, the area was once the home of extensive shellfish reefs. Sadly, overexploitation, pollution, introduced pests and oyster disease destroyed almost all of them.

In Port Stephens, remnant reefs showed potential for new life. TNC worked with the NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), Fisheries to gain support for shellfish reef restoration in NSW, with the NSW Government funding the first large scale pilot of intertidal shellfish reef restoration as part of its Marine Estate Management Strategy program in Port Stephens.

Scaling up

In 2021, building on the success of the pilot project in Port Stephens, we joined forces with NSW DPI Fisheries and the Australian Government to expand the large-scale shellfish reef restoration project in NSW.

A further 4,200 tonnes of rock material was added at the Myall and Karuah sites to enlarge the existing 2.5 hectare project by an additional 5 hectares.

In total, the Port Stephens shellfish reef restoration project has restored 7.5 hectares of Sydney rock oyster reef habitat, the first restored intertidal shellfish reef in Australia. 

Significantly the Worimi Knowledgeholders Aboriginal Corporation have named the reefs using traditional Worimi (Guthang) language in recognition of the Worimi people’s strong connection to Sea Country. The Karuah site is named ‘Garuwaguba Ninang’ meaning Karuah's (sea country) oysters. The Myall site is named ‘Bindayimaguba Ninang’ meaning Pindimar's (home of the black possum) oysters.

Early signs of success

Project monitoring has shown more than 55 million Sydney Rock Oysters had colonised the restored reef bases and were filtering over 7.5 million litres of seawater per hour. 

Shellfish ecosystem restoration across Australia

Port Stephens is one of thirteen sites identified for reef restoration under Reef Builder, an initiative supported by the Australian Government, which aims to bring shellfish reefs back from the brink of extinction. while supporting the economic recovery of communities affected by bushfires and COVID-19.

If achieved, Australia will be the first nation in the world to have recovered a critically endangered marine ecosystem.

Download the infographics report

  • Port Stephens Shellfish Reef Infographics Report

    Port Stephens Shellfish Reef Infographics Report

    Infographics Report


Benefits for people and nature

The return of the shellfish reefs to Port Stephens has many benefits for the local community and nature. This includes:

  • Improved marine biodiversity, fish production and water quality.
  • Enhanced opportunities for people to enjoy recreational fishing, snorkelling, and diving.
  • A boost to sustainable tourism.
  • Community engagement opportunities including volunteering and citizen science.