NSW oysters’ reputation as some of the safest and tastiest may be attributed, in part, to the strong relationship that exists between oyster farmers and their regulator. The NSW Food Authority is vigilant about consumer safety. It stops oyster harvesting after heavy rainfall events, as run-off into the oyster-growing estuaries can lower salinity and trigger the growth of potentially harmful pathogens. Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they may pick up any contaminants and could pass them on to consumers.
Currently operations can’t reopen until testing confirms that water quality is okay for harvesting, but current methods use offsite laboratories in a process that can take up to seven days. This means oyster leases may be closed unnecessarily, costing farmers up to $100,000 a day in lost revenues.
The oyster industry needs a faster, more accurate means of testing water quality and safety.
Real-time water quality sensing combined with breakthrough molecular techniques and data-fuelled models, will enable the development of new digital tools that improve regulatory procedures and help farmers improve harvest management.
State-of-the-art sensors designed by The Yield have been deployed across key oyster-producing regions of NSW, collecting real-time environmental data. Water metrics, such as temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen, are then being tracked by UTS researchers and mapped alongside water samples collected regularly by participating farmers.
Correlations that are identified between key environmental metrics and water contaminants will form models to enable real-time closure regulation and power the development of new digital management tools for the industry.
The first stage of this project was a series of farmer engagement workshops and sensor installations which took place in June 2018. The key takeaways from these workshops can be viewed at https://www.foodagility.com/posts/nsw-oyster-faqs.
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Research student at the University of Technology Sydney
Associate Professor at the School of Life Science and Core Member of the Climate Change Cluster at the University of Technology Sydney.