Missing native oyster (Ostrea edulis L.) beds in a European Marine Protected Area: Should there be widespread restorative management?

Jose Maria Farinas-Franco, Bryony Pearce, James McD Mair, Daniel Bernard Harries, Rebecca Catherine MacPherson, Joanne S. Porter, Paula J. Reimer, William G. Sanderson

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Anthropogenic pressures on the marine environment have escalated and shellfish habitats have declined substantially around the world. Recently, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have rapidly increased in number, but management baselines rarely account for historical conditions. Marine examples of habitat restoration are therefore unusual.

An interdisciplinary review of management baselines was undertaken for the Dornoch Firth protected area (NE Scotland) as well as three adjacent inlets and 50 km of open coastline. The protected area has low levels of industrial development, is sparsely populated, and previously achieved management objectives.

Here we systematically searched for historical evidence of native oyster (Ostrea edulis) beds, a habitat now rare and of conservation importance throughout Atlantic Europe. Archaeological records, navigational charts, historical maps, museum collections, land-use records, fisheries records, public online databases and naturalists' records were searched. We conducted intertidal and subtidal surveys and sample oyster shells were radiocarbon dated.

The combined interdisciplinary sources showed that O. edulis occurred in the inlets and open coast areas of NE Scotland, and specifically in the protected area: Probably since the end of the last glaciation to the late 1800s when they were likely over-fished. Present environmental conditions are also suitable for oyster restoration.

Habitat restoration in protected areas is an emerging global theme. However, European oyster restoration effort is currently confined to remnant populations with a clear history of exploitation or dwindling associated fisheries. An interdisciplinary review of baselines will probably show scope for the restoration of O. edulis, for nature conservation, in many other European MPAs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293–311
Number of pages19
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date5 Apr 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


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