Scottish oysters were on the rocks. Now a whiskey distillery is giving them a lifeline – .

Scottish oysters were on the rocks. Now a whiskey distillery is giving them a lifeline – .

The shell in his hand is flatter and rounder than the faster growing Pacific oysters found in European restaurants today. It is also very rare, having been fished almost to extinction in British waters during the Industrial Revolution.

“Rail networks have opened up urban markets and what was once localized oyster fisheries suddenly found markets for several million people in big cities like London and Paris,” says Sanderson, who is based at Heriot University. -Watt of Edinburgh. At the time, oysters were considered “food for the poor” and sold as street food, Sanderson explains. “You could even pay your rent in oysters in Edinburgh if you wanted. “

The popularity of the European oyster was its downfall. Since the 19th century, native oyster populations have declined by 95% in the UK.

But there is a silver lining for the UK’s native oysters. Beneath these waters is a marine rewilding project that has transformed the Dornoch Firth, a narrow strip of water off the north-east coast of Scotland. The Dornoch Environmental Improvement Project, or DEEP, began in 2014 and has so far seen the successful reintroduction of 20,000 European oysters to the firth bed. The goal is to bring this number to an autonomous population of 4 million by 2025.

A fiery renewal

The project is the result of an unlikely partnership. On the banks of the Dornoch are the old buildings of the Glenmorangie Distillery, a Scotch whiskey maker who has made his home in the Firth for over 170 years. “They were expanding their warehouses and the business was booming, and they wanted to know how to reduce the environmental footprint and improve their environment,” says Sanderson.

Read: Scotland wants to rewild its famous wilderness

Part of Glenmorangie’s drive for sustainability is an anaerobic digester built in 2017 to clean up waste produced by the distillery, such as barley from the fermentation process.

“Traditionally, we dump the waste into the firth,” explains Edward Thom, the director of the distillery. “What we are doing now is removing 97% of the waste before it is released. The remaining 3% is then cleaned by the oyster beds that we are currently planting as part of the DEEP project. “

Oysters are able to filter about 240 liters of seawater per day, which cleans out any organic byproducts from the distillery, and their presence also acts as a habitat builder for other species.

“Oysters create the structure on the seabed, create the nooks and crannies for things to experience,” says Sanderson. “We are starting to see an increase in the number of certain species of fish and certain species of crabs associated with these habitats. “

Additionally, research has shown that oyster beds can act as carbon sinks, sequestering carbon from the water column and burying it in the seabed below.

Professor William Sanderson, in the Dornoch Firth.

The DEEP project is just one of 19 ongoing projects in Europe and the first to rebuild an oyster habitat that had been completely destroyed. With the combined benefits of increased biodiversity, water filtration and carbon sequestration, Sanderson believes this kind of work can have a real impact.

“Restoring oyster beds is as deep as restoring old growth forests,” he says.

Read: Meet Hong Kong’s ‘ghost net hunter’ who saves the city’s marine life

But even though the project has made remarkable progress, Sanderson admits he still feels some trepidation before diving into the icy waters to check out the oysters.

“Every time we go down it’s always a little anxious moment for me,” he says. “I feel like a future father… and every year I come back with a smile on my face because the oysters are getting bigger and bigger. “


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