Oysters in Solent could hold the key to improve waters for wildlife
PROTECTING oysters in the Solent could be the best way to save other local species from harmful pollution, a wildlife trust has urged.
A report due to be heard at a Portsmouth City Council meeting next week has outlined how some shellfish in Langstone and Portsmouth Harbour has recently been 'downgraded', meaning it now needs to undergo a series of treatments before it can be eaten by humans.
This is partly due to 'toxic' marine algae in the Solent caused by nitrogen in the water.
The council's regulatory services manager, Richard Lee, said: 'We have concerns about the condition of shellfish in these areas.
'These are sensitive environments whose health is affected by a variety of pressures. Pollution is one of these, along with invasive species, disease, habitat loss and human activities including fishing.
'Releases from sewage management and treatment processes are a potential source of pollution, but it's not possible to judge the exact impact of any one source.'
The impact of nitrates in the water has been a concern since early last year when Natural England ruled that housebuilding in the Solent area should be stopped until a way to reduce nitrogen release was found.
Portsmouth council has found a temporary solution, but a permanent one is still being sought.
Introducing more shellfish to the harbours had previously been considered as a way to tackle the problem as oysters are able to 'absorb' nitrogen.
Tim Ferrero from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust championed the idea of restoring oyster beds to encourage this. He said: 'Nitrates in our coastal waters are a serious threat to the biodiversity, habitats and productivity of the Solent. The Solent and its harbours are internationally important for a number of marine habitats and species.
'We support the creation of oyster “reserves” where oysters will be left to form natural reef structures increasing their ability to reduce nitrogen, store carbon, and provide seed stock for the rest of the Solent.'
A decision to restore the beds does not rest on the council, but can be supported by the authority.
Mr Lee added: 'There has been a reduction of suitable habitat, and methods of restoring shellfish beds are at a very early stage of development. We'll continue to watch progress in the science with interest.'