Oisre Conamara
Oyster Information and Scientific Restoration of Ecosystems

Photos: Jose Fariñas Franco

Ireland
Oisre Conamara: Oyster Information and Scientific Restoration of Ecosystems of Conamara

Conamara, an Irish speaking region in the west coast of Ireland, is host to the last of the native oyster beds that used to be widespread around the Irish coasts up to the early 1900s, when most disappeared following years of unsustainable fishing. Some of these remnant populations are located in Kilkieran (Cill Chiaráin) and Bertraghbui (Beirtreach Buí), two sheltered bays in north Galway Bay, where they co-exist with important seagrass and maerl habitats, providing a mosaic of biodiverse habitats of high conservation value. In the current drive to restore native oyster habitats throughout Europe, and in Ireland, there is a clear need to describe the native oyster biocenosis and its biodiversity to develop metrics of ecological restoration success. The Kilkieran and Bertraghbui native oyster beds are ideal to provide this valuable information.

In Oisre Conamara, a new native oyster restoration project launched in September 2023 lead by the Atlantic Technological University and the Marine and Freshwater Research Centre, we are proud to be working with Údarás na Gaeltachta1 and the Comharchumann Sliogéisc Chonamara Teo (Conamara Shellfish Co-Operative) to map the extent, population structure and ecology of these remnant beds to inform ecological restoration and enhancement plans. Oisre Conamara builds up on previous recruitment studies using cuppelles conducted by Údarás na Gaeltachta and the Connemara Shellfish Co-Operative.

Oisre Conamara has a strong focus on the description of biodiversity and faunal assemblage baselines and provide evidence to identify suitable areas as sanctuaries that can serve as broodstock and nurseries. The rejuvenation and expansion of existing oyster beds within their historical range using cultch, reseeding, and translocation of local broodstock will also be undertaken. By working with the Connemara Shellfish Co-Operative, the project aims to raise awareness among the local community for support of oyster restoration and provides them with advice in harnessing this ecosystem, in a scientific and sustainable manner.

Bertraghbui (Beirtreach Buí) 
Photos: © Jose Fariñas Franco
Work in progress at the lab.
Photos: © Jose Fariñas Franco

The project is led by Dr. Jose M. Fariñas-Franco2, Lecturer in marine ecology at ATU Galway City and it just started its first phase as a four-year PhD awarded to ATU student Mateja Švonja under the Enterprise Partnership Scheme and the Employment-Based Postgraduate Programme, run by the Irish Research Council, and part funded by Údarás na Gaeltachta. 

Mateja is based in ATU’s Marine and Freshwater Research Centre and the objectives her project as the first phase of Oisre Conamara are:

  1. Carry out baseline mapping to fully understand the current extent and fragmentation of the native oyster beds. 
  2. Undertake underwater surveys using video/photo-quadrats to estimate epifaunal communities, oyster and shell density and fish use of the beds as essential habitats.
  3. Conduct removal quadrat surveys to assess oyster population structure, recruitment and infaunal biodiversity (compared to non-oyster controls).
  4. Carry out translocation and cultch restoration trials based on baseline surveys, MaxEnt models; substrate experiments. This objective will inform future upscaling of cultch deployments into suitable areas. 
  5. Develop food web studies charting trophic dynamics in native oyster beds and controls.

We are also working on establishing the prevalence and spatial extent of Bonamia ostreae infection in both systems with support from Dr. Deborah Cheslett at the Fish Health Unit in the Irish Marine Institute and are planning to study larval presence using traditional plankton sampling methods, spat collection, and eDNA to fully characterise the populations genetics and potential connectivity between the native oyster beds in each bay. This information would be crucial to establish any pheno- and genotypical difference that can inform restoration, including translocation and potential aquaculture strategies as restorative tools. 

Bonamia work in the lab.
Photos: © Jose Fariñas Franco

Contact

Project Lead:
Dr. José M. Fariñas-Franco (ATU) 
josemaria.farinas-franco@atu.ie
+353 91 742 285
More about José…

PhD Researcher (ATU):
Mateja Svonja 
mateja.svonja@research.atu.ie
More about Mateja…

Enterprise Partner:
Máire Ní Einniú (Udaras na Gaeltachta) 
m.nieinniu@udaras.ie

Partners

Atlantic Technological University (Galway City)
www.atu.ie

Údarás na Gaeltachta
udaras.ie/en/

Marine and Freshwater Research Center
mfrc-atu.ie/projects/conservation/oisre-conamara/

Comharchumann Sliogéisc Chonamara Teo
biamara.ie

Funding

Irish Research Council
research.ie