April 12, 2021

Putting ‘Mussel’ into Reef Restoration

Peel-Harvey Theo Kearing with Mussel Garden baskets - edited
Theo Kearing displays a mussel basket.

They might not be typical gardeners, but residents, groups and schoolchildren are volunteering to tend to about 80 shellfish gardens in the Peel-Harvey Estuary in Western Australia.

Headed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and funded by Alcoa Foundation, the mussel gardening program is part of a multi-year initiative to restore the estuary and three connected rivers, which are the environmental, economic and social lifeblood of the area.

Important partners in the mussel gardening program are the area’s Traditional Owners, with TNC and Alcoa Foundation working to ensure that Bindjareb Noongar culture is embedded into the project. Theo Kearing, a Bindjareb Noongar man, is involved in the project’s community engagement.

“I take great pride in sharing my peoples’ knowledge and stories of the estuary, including how they successfully managed it for centuries before European settlement,” said Mr. Kearing. “We need to rekindle and pass on our peoples’ knowledge to everyone so our children, our grandchildren and generations to come can continue to enjoy this beautiful estuary and the connected waterways.”

Each trained volunteer will raise a batch of juvenile mussels, monitoring their growth and regularly cleaning the specially designed basket that holds them below water. Once the mussels reach adulthood, they will be relocated to a new 500-square-meter (5,400-square-foot) reef substrate in the estuary.

Decades of commercial dredging, pollution and overfishing have decimated the region’s shellfish reefs. Restoring the reefs will help prevent coastal erosion and improve water quality, as shellfish provide natural and highly efficient water filtering.