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Conservation of Marine Foundation Species: Learning from Native Oyster Restoration from California to British Columbia

The Native Olympia Oyster Collaborative (NOOC) is a coastwide network from Baja California to British Columbia to conserve and rebuild West Coast native oyster populations. It was established as part of a collaborative project to improve communication, coordination and information sharing among scientists and restoration practitioners.


Marine foundation species are critical to the structure and resilience of coastal ecosystems and provide key ecosystem services. Since many have suffered severe population declines, restoration of foundation species has been undertaken worldwide. The Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida) is a foundation species, and the restoration of depleted populations is a priority for maintaining ecosystem function of estuaries along the west coast of North America. Here, we synthesize all native oyster restoration projects conducted from California, USA, to British Columbia, Canada, and analyze project goals, methods, and outcomes. Currently, restoration projects are spread unevenly across the species ’ range, driven by locally varying goals and implemented with contrasting approaches. We highlight the value of regional strategic planning and decision support tools to evaluate project design and methods for restoration, including the selection of substrates and the targeted use of aquaculture. We recommend future investment in larger projects, which our analysis found were more cost-effective, but which have been relatively rare for this species. We also recommend that funders support monitoring over broader temporal and spatial scales than in the past to better characterize long-term effects of restoration on oyster populations and the services they provide beyond the project footprint. We found that most projects successfully supported native oysters and engaged local communities, and recommend similar efforts to continue to enhance understanding of Olympia oysters, which remain unfamiliar to many coastal residents. We believe that the results of this synthesis are broadly applicable to marine foundation species generally, and can inform restoration and conservation efforts worldwide.


Ridlon, A.D., Marks, A., Zabin, C.J. et al. Conservation of Marine Foundation Species: Learning from Native Oyster Restoration from California to British Columbia. Estuaries and Coasts (2021).