The NONI (Native Oyster Restoration in Northern Ireland) project is the first step in Northern Ireland to restore our once-abundant native oyster beds that provide clean water, healthy fisheries, and an abundance of biodiversity. It is a 6-month project supported by the DAERA Challenge Fund.
In Northern Ireland, extensive oyster beds existed in Carlingford Lough, Lough Foyle and Belfast Lough for several hundred years, but most stocks crashed during the late nineteenth or early twentieth century. Now only a small population of wild oysters exists in Strangford Lough. In Belfast Lough, the native oyster has been considered extinct since 1903. However, in the summer of 2020, live oysters were discovered for the first time in over 100 years, evidence that the environmental conditions for re-establishment are right.
To support the natural recovery of the native oyster in Belfast Lough, Ulster Wildlife is installing 24 oyster nurseries in Bangor Marina, which will be operational by Spring 2022. An oyster nursery is a micro-habitat housing 27 mature oysters that will reproduce and release the next generation of oyster larvae to settle out on the seabed of Belfast Lough. The cages are hung in the water underneath the pontoons, which provides the oysters with protection from predation. The approach is based on the Solent Oyster Restoration Project methodology.
This is a demonstration project to test the approach in Northern Ireland. We hope to continue this work through the rollout of a nursery network in Northern Ireland and a public outreach programme to engage local communities and schools with future funding. In partnership with Bangor University, we will produce a feasibility report based on population trends over the past 20 years to inform future large-scale native oyster restoration in Strangford Lough.