As I waded through the knee-deep water, casting my line, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of fulfillment and purpose.
I heard about OzFish a few years ago and was eager to learn how I could contribute to the organisation’s vision of healthier waterways. I am now a Chapter leader, participating in an exclusive habitat restoration experience just for its members.
OzFish have events running all over Australia; some are open to everyone, and others are only open to members. It‘s one of the things that makes being a member so rewarding. I was privileged to be invited to a six-day immersive experience at Turkey Beach, near Gladstone Queensland, supporting research on shellfish restoration. It was an opportunity to learn about the benefits and connectedness of habitats, and how we can support similar habitats in our local waterways, this one had a focus on shellfish.
Members only experiences are about embedding the OzFish culture, connecting with other passionate anglers and learning alongside Traditional Owners who are equally keen to share knowledge and kickstart restoration. This trip had all that and more.
This trip was part of phD student, Marina Richardson’s project, looking to investigate tropical reef-forming oyster species that are otherwise not very well known. Marina’s research is the first of its kind in Turkey Beach, where she has been able to measure naturally forming oyster reefs to approximately 4.2ha in size! The exciting thing about these reefs? They settle on soft sediment. That’s right, not on hard surfaces or jetties or wharfs, but in the sand – and what’s even more exciting is that these reefs have never been dated, yet we know they are super slow growing. Perhaps a couple of hundred years old? Maybe even a thousand?
These reefs showcase such incredible diversity, not only from the species that inhabit these crevices and cracks, but also their interactions with nearby mangrove forests. As we were flying over with the drone, we found an osprey nest sitting high up in the mangroves and healthy oyster reefs below. Its pretty incredible to think of all the creatures and organisms that rely so heavily on those habitats.
As a way to capture the experience, I documented the trip and am calling on anglers young and old to become part of OzFish as a member. I can only imagine the formidable power of what can be achieved when every single one of us gives back and gets involved.
Day 1 – The first wetting of the line
After a long drive from NSW, we gathered for an epic adventure aboard the massive OzFish oyster punt, skippered by our host Robbie Porter. The OzFish crew comprised 13 individuals ranging from PhD scientists, dedicated OzFish chapter presidents, and new members eager to learn, all unafraid to get their hands dirty for the love of shellfish and restoration. Our first stop took us to the oyster reefs, where Marina Richardson, from Griffith University, deployed a drone to map this vital fish habitat from the sky.
As we pulled up on the sandy shore, an unexpected sight awaited. A distressed cormorant around a mangrove tree. This was a routine rescue for John Larson, one of OzFish’s founding fathers. Flinging his jacket over the bird, he skilfully freed it. In assistance was Pete Pryor, Clarence River Chapter President, who received a bruising thank-you-peck dangerously close to his manhood. It’s why OzFishers are so focused on knowing how to tie good knots, so we don’t lose any line.
While mapping other oyster reefs up the creeks, we learned about diverse species of oysters. Everyone onboard was a fishing enthusiast. Lures of all descriptions were flung, but the cold snap kept the mangrove jacks in their hidey holes. Sometimes fishing is a balloon of expectations punctured by reality. As an alternative, crab pots were deployed with tomorrow’s dinner in mind.
Every night we had the chance to listen to guest speakers who are all somewhat involve in the world of oyster health, restoration and further understanding these ecosystem engineers and it was an absolute privilege to spend a week listening, learning, and getting to know these incredible people.
That evening, we gathered for a hearty dinner followed by engaging presentations on the significance of shellfish reefs, expertly delivered by Marina and Robbie. Marina’s research shed light on the location and prospects of shellfish reef restoration, as they had never been accurately mapped. Their work is critical as Australia has already lost a staggering 95% of its oyster reefs. Marina and Robbie describe their passion for the ocean as something like a religious calling. They are true lovers of the sea, driven to create change. It helps they’re both unafraid to savour an oyster in the name of science.
Day 2 – Network for change
Our second day was welcomed with blow-a-goat-off-a-chain wind. Undeterred, we explored the Turkey Beach estuary system with Robbie, who is becoming somewhat of an OzFish legend. Right off the bat, he impressed us with his ability to reverse the 7-meter OzFish punt at speed. It’s a spectacle that could be its own Queensland tourist attraction.
Through the OzFish connections and shared knowledge, we continue to learn. Overnight this network had given us insider tips on where to put our crab pots – it’s secret knowledge, like knowing where the good scissors are in your house.
We explored more oyster reefs and were also introduced to Rory Mulloy, an environmental scientist working diligently in Gladstone Harbour.
Later that night, Rory gave us a presentation focused on rehabilitating the mangroves within this huge harbour. His unique insights detailed how existing harbour walls fail to encourage mangrove and oyster growth. Determined to bridge this gap, Rory devised innovative solutions, such as a series of groynes along reclaimed rock walls, ingeniously designed to hold soil and facilitate the growth of mangroves. The success of this endeavour became evident as we observed photos of a thriving ecosystem, teeming with diverse invertebrates, crabs, and flourishing mangroves.
Another remarkable achievement in OzFish’s arsenal was the creation of oyster pyramids deployed in Moreton Bay, aptly named ROB, short for Robust Oyster Basket. These pyramids, carefully transported from Brisbane, were handed over to Rory and soon to be deployed within Gladstone Harbour. It’s encouraging that OzFish stands by their side, offering expertise and assistance on a commercial level. It feels like we’re becoming stewards, ensuring our treasures are safeguarded for generations.
Day 3 – Cold weather passion in the tropics
A 5am alarm and the hustle of the OzFish crew was contagious. It was a mackerel trawling excursion – a pursuit for the fishing frothers. After three long hours, we didn’t even get a nibble, but bacon and eggs erased all that disappointment.
On the boat ride back, Marina told us how her research required mapping these reefs but lacked the means to do so independently. That’s where OzFish can really support scientists; working together allows her to collect samples that could be used commercially, benefiting both fishermen and others involved in the industry. Through the collaboration, Marina has access to Australia’s leading experts in habitat rehabilitation, allowing her to advance her research into ecosystems and oyster identification.
We arrived home to a hero’s welcome and a feast to match thanks to the secret crab pot locations. As the evening of day three unfolded, John Larrson took the floor and enlightened us about the QX disease-resistant oysters in the Richmond River, known as the unhealthiest river in New South Wales. John is one of the founding members at OzFish and is the kind of man who plants trees knowing he may never sit in their shade. His dedication to shellfish restoration, researching them across Australia, showcases an inspirational individual’s true spirit. He epitomises the kind of person OzFish attracts—passionate, driven, and committed to making a difference.
DAY 4 – The DNA of Change
The final day saw us hop onto a bus to Gladstone Harbour. Our goal? Get a first-hand visual of the rehabilitation sites Rory had created. It was incredible to witness the sharp contrast between thriving life in one area and the barrenness just a stone’s throw away. This stark dichotomy emphasised the importance of doing things right and working harmoniously with nature. Seeing a bustling commercial port like Gladstone Harbour actively seeking to restore nature and recognising its inherent value was heartening.
The OzFish punt was launched amidst horizontal rain and wind chop that would make your knee crack like a glow stick. Undeterred, we ventured to map more of the harbour’s oyster reefs. We persevered through the challenging conditions to gather crucial data that would contribute to the protection of these vital habitats. We didn’t let an opportunity slip by when Bundjalung man, Kris Cook, mentioned that there would be woodworms living in rotting logs in the nearby mangrove forests, so we putted over to the bank and bought a log back on deck. A strange taste for sure, and surpingly somewhat similar an oyster!
That evening, we were treated to a captivating presentation by Nikki Benigno, who enlightened us about her ground-breaking work using DNA sequencing to map oysters. She showcased the astounding diversity within a single species of oysters, each displaying distinct characteristics. It was reassuring to know that brilliant minds like Nikki’s were dedicated to studying and preserving oyster farming—a significant industry that relies on the expertise of passionate individuals like her.
Reviving our ecosystems
It’s easy to feel alone when confronted with disheartening environmental degradation or the realisation that our once abundant fishing spots are no longer teeming with life.
Even though four days on the boat left me wobbling like a punch-drunk fighter, it was worth every stagger. OzFish is not just another NGO but a catalyst for change. A force that empowers individuals to come together and work for the restoration of our aquatic habitats.
The challenges may be formidable, but OzFish has the power to bring together extraordinary people and create transformative experiences. From braving the elements to supporting vital research and fostering a sense of camaraderie, OzFish continues to showcase its unwavering commitment to restoring and preserving our natural resources.
Being part of this community, where passion meets action, is an honour.
– A day by day breakdown of an exclusive OzFish member experience, by Ray Klerck, Richmond River Chapter President
Become a member today to be involved in OzFish member exclusive experiences.