Nicholas Ortodossi

Fish love oyster reefs

I am an outdoor enthusiast and adrenaline junkie. I love extreme sports, such as surfing and snowboarding. Being out on the ocean and trekking through the bush is where I’m most content, where I can be as close to Mother Nature as possible. Surprisingly I snow-ski very well backwards. My research super power is an ability to “get the work done”.

If you took a punt (singing is optional…) down the Noosa estuary in the early part of the last century, you had to be rather careful: most of the bottom was covered with oyster reefs that have a frightfully uncivil habit of interfering with watercraft propulsion of all types. Despite their inimical attitude towards punts, these reefs formed the life blood of sizeable shellfish businesses. If, however, you leave these oysters in place, you get, possibly the best type of fish habitat to be found in sheltered waters. This mostly due to oyster reefs having a plethora of hiding places and provide rich feeding opportunities; small fish simply love them. Awfully sad for the little guys, where there are little fish, there are also larger fish of disreputable character intent on eating the little ones.

Reefs are now back on the coast, thanks dues a fantastic restoration project in the Noosa estuary, done as a joint project between USC, the Noosa Biosphere Foundation, Noosa Council, and the Thomas Foundation.

These reefs have not recovered: what you can find today are merely sad, lonely, isolated small remnants of former habitat glory. Even if you don’t like oysters, you might like fish and this is the connection to my research; oyster reefs are super valuable fish habitats (fish like to live on and near oyster reefs), meaning that ‘fewer reefs’ translates into ‘fewer fish’. I investigate how we can restore oyster reefs to give us the best possible ‘return’ in terms of more abundant fish, more species of fish, and better growth of fish. Some of the ‘ideas’ that I put to the test is how the position of reefs in an estuarine ‘habitat landscape’ affects fish (are reefs close to mangroves working better?) and whether new reefs can measurably change the distribution of fish in the whole estuary (I make ‘fish maps’).

Back to People