In a small inlet off the coast of Northern Scotland, known as the Dornoch Firth, there’s been an effort to repopulate oysters that were extinct from overfishing. What’s special about this effort is that these oysters are being called upon to drink whiskey and help combat climate change.
For seven years, the Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project, also known as Deep, has been working to rebuild the oyster population. The project was created through a partnership between Heriot-Watt University, the Marine Conservation Society, and Glenmorangie Distillery, which overlooks the firth. It recently passed 20,000 oysters added to the firth with a long-term goal to reach 4 million.
Here’s how it works: the distillery produces a significant amount of organic waste from the whiskey-making process, which is discharged into Dornoch Forth. However, even with an anaerobic digestion plant to reduce the biological load into the waters by more than 95 percent, distillery officials are still concerned about the other 5 percent of the waste. The oysters come into play by feeding on the remaining byproducts discharged by Glenmorangie. They suck all the waste particles out of the water and enhance water quality in the process.
Filter-feeding oysters reportedly can purify as much as 200 liters of water a day and their reefs generate complex structures on the seabed, which becomes a valuable habitat for marine life. While these are significant, research by Deep has also shown the potential for oysters to capture carbon dioxide. If this turns out to be true, it could be a valuable tool in the fight against climate change.
Deep is investigating findings that suggest a restored oyster reef habitat can potentially act as a long-term carbon storage, thereby mitigating the impacts of climate change. By growing their shells out of calcium carbonate, the carbon they digest from food in the undersea environment can essentially be locked away.