Professor Shauna Murray, leader of the Transforming Australian Shellfish Production project was one of three finalists in the Medal for Research Impact category of the 2022University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for ResearchExcellence, held earlier this month. The Awards recognise and celebrate excellence in research, support and impact by UTS staff.
As oysters are filter feeders, they can naturally accumulate harmful toxins and bacteria after heavy rainfall. Traditionally, regulators like the NSW Food Authority close farms until testing confirms that oysters are safe for harvesting, which can take offsite laboratories up to seven days and cost farmers up to $100,000 per day in lost revenue.
The Transforming Australian Shellfish Production project aims to reduce these unnecessary closures by delivering real-time, estuary-specific predictive modelling. It follows on from the success of an earlier Food Agility project, which proved the effectiveness of real-time temperature and salinity sensors to predict when harmful toxins and bacteria are present in an estuary.
The impact of these two projects has been substantial and continues to grow. The team’s water monitoring system now used for 80% of NSW oyster production, with more systems being rolled out nationally. As Manning River oyster farmer Ian Crisp and North Coast representative for the NSW Shellfish Committee said: “Before we did this project, we never had any salinity meters in any areas. Now they are important part of what we do now. We use these meters to make decisions on whether we deploy oysters, work oysters or deploy oysters into that area.”
An economic analysis conducted by theNSW DPI found that the new approach provided more timely and accurate reporting of water quality in a harvest area, improved management of heavy rainfall events, and kept estuaries open for an extra two weeks of harvest a year, increasing net profits in one sample location by $95,000. Potential economic benefit across the NSW shellfish industry was estimated at $3 million before costs a year – an increase of 5.4%. These estimates were considered conservative as the data were collected in a drought period.
The report found several other benefits for oyster farmers adopting real-time sensors, including:
Food Agility Chief Scientist Professor David Lamb says “There is excellence in research and there is excellence in innovation. Research is an essential part of innovation but few academic staff can do the latter really well. In the shellfish transformation project, supported by Food Agility and partners, Prof Murray exemplifies not only excellence in research, but through her commitment to industry and community engagement, she has successfully managed to ensure effective utilisation of the outputs of her research.”
The Transforming Australian Shellfish Production project is a collaboration between Food Agility, the University of Technology Sydney, NSW Department of Primary Industries, the WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, and NSW Farmers.
Find out more about the Transforming Australian Shellfish Production project, and read estuary reports from stage one to see more fascinating insights into how updated management methods are ‘transforming’ the productivity and profitability of the sector.