Pioneering project investigates nature-based solution to nutrients in waterways

OzFish Unlimited

Researchers are hoping to uncover a nature-based solution to the problem of nitrogen in Australia’s waterways with a pioneering research trial underway at the North Pine River, north of Brisbane.  

Restoring shellfish reefs could be the answer to removing nutrients in our waterways and a joint project between OzFish Unlimited – Australia’s fishing conservation charity, Unitywater, Healthy Land and Water and the University of Sunshine Coast will study their effectiveness over the next five years.  

Up to 95 per cent of the reefs have disappeared and are now considered functionally extinct and these reefs historically played a major role in nutrient removal. OzFish’s successful shellfish reef restoration in Moreton Bay has provided the catalyst for this nutrient removal pilot.

Purpose-built shellfish reefs using Robust Oyster Baskets (ROBs), developed by OzFish volunteers, were deployed recently at intertidal zones of the North Pine River near Murrumba Downs Wastewater Treatment Plant.

“Unitywater’s commitment to net zero includes an ambitious goal of ensuring all nutrients from wastewater are diverted or offset from waterways by 2040,” said Unitywater Acting Executive Manager Sustainable Infrastructure Solutions Ivan Beirne.

“Through continually optimising our operational processes, last year we reduced the volume of nitrogen returned back to the environment across all of our networks and phosphorus, but we want to do more.”

Mr Beirne said Unitywater was continuously looking for ways to reduce its operating footprint and supporting the natural environment to beneficially reuse water.

Dr Ben Gilby, a senior lecturer and esteemed expert in marine ecology, fish biology, and marine ecosystem management at the University of Sunshine Coast, will lead a team of researchers to monitor them to see what nutrients the reefs can sequester. 

Robbie Porter, OzFish’s senior project officer for shellfish reef restoration, said the project holds the potential to reshape the future of wastewater treatment practices throughout the country.   

“Nitrogen can be very detrimental to fish habitats because it contributes to algal blooms and high algae areas mean that oysters have fewer areas where they can grow on. The phrase we’ve been using to describe this project is that we’re researching if a nature-based solution for removing nitrogen could be oysters.” 

This project will be delivered by Unitywater in partnership with University of Sunshine Coast, Healthy Land and Water and OzFish Unlimited. It is also supported by BCF – Boating, Camping, Fishing.

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About OzFish

OzFish Unlimited is a national environmental conservation charity established to improve the health of our rivers, lakes and estuaries. It is a member-based organisation dedicated to make our fishing grounds healthy, vibrant and more productive. Their active work includes; habitat restoration such as resnagging, riverbank planting, clean-ups, fishways, shellfish reefs and educational and community capacity building programs.

/Public Release.