|A partnership between Glenmorangie Distillery and scientists from Heriot-Watt University has succeeded in returning 20,000 oysters to Dornoch Firth, on the north eastern coast of Scotland, as part of a conservation project to restore the region's sustainable native oyster reef.
The Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (DEEP) aims to create a sustainable reef of four million native oysters which became extinct from the location over 100 years ago due to overfishing, in addition to exploring the capacity of the restored reef as a potential natural carbon store to help mitigate climate change.
The restoration project began in 2014 as part of the whisky distillery's sustainability strategy, and is set to continue for the forseeable to assess the restored reef's climate benefits.
"DEEP has allowed us to demonstrate the many benefits of restoration of long-lost reefs, and carbon storage is yet another exciting outcome of the research for the project," said Professor Bill Sanderson, from the School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society at Heriot-Watt University.
"We are still uncovering exactly how much of a game changer this can be but we're increasingly focusing our research on delving deeper into the role of the oyster reef as a carbon store."
Glenmorangie said it initiated DEEP in a bid to enhance local marine biodiversity and reverse the effects of organic waste from the distillery that ends up in local waters, as just one oyster is able to purify up to 200 litres of water a day. As such, it is hoped the restored reef will be able to help eradicate by-products in the water from the distillery and local area.
In 2017, the distillery introduced an anaerobic digestion plant which the firm claims has successfully reduced the company's biological waste by 95 per cent. The oyster reef is expected to help mop up the final five per cent.
Professor John Baxter, chair of DEEP's Independent Research Advisory Panel said the project was "greatly improving our understanding of the dynamics of oyster reef restoration".
"It is also helping to set the standard in all aspects of marine habitat restoration work such as biosecurity and monitoring," he explained. "As we embark on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, DEEP is a prime example of the multiple benefits - habitat improvement, biodiversity enhancement and climate change mitigation - that can come from such initiatives."