Clew Bay, the environment and our future

Outdoor Living

WORKING TOGETHER Members of the Clew Bay Oyster Co-operative fishing in Clew Bay.  Pic: Alex Blackwell

Alex Blackwell

Clew Bay is undoubtedly an extraordinarily beautiful waterscape. It is perhaps the most stunning one I have had the good fortune to be a part of. Clew Bay is also home to a wide range of animal and plant life both above the water, on its adjacent shores, as well as below.
What is such great news is that the immense biodiversity of the bay has been held under protection from harm by local organizations, such as the Clew Bay Oyster Co-operative.
Whereas, on the surface, one would assume that the Oyster Co-op would only be interested in propagating and fishing oysters, the truth is, for it to achieve this, it must first ensure the overall environment is in very good order. This includes looking after the multitude of plant and animals (biodiversity) living in the bay and its environs. The co-op members are therefore always vigilant for anything, such as pollution, that might be detrimental to life in the bay.
Another self-proclaimed remit for the Clew Bay Oyster Co-op since its inception in the late 1970s has been to promote sustainable employment in Clew Bay. In addition to the controlled oyster fishing, this has been aquaculture in all its forms. This has included the careful introduction of salmon and trout farming.
A by-product of finfish farming is a supply of good, clean nutrients which enhance algal growth in the bay. Micro-algae provide food for the shellfish in the bay, while the larger macro-algae are harvested by locals and sold to processors who, in turn, supply food, medical, cosmetics and other industries with a good, clean, organic product.
More interesting from the ‘future’ perspective are the mussel, oyster, clam and other shellfish-farming ventures, as well as the native oyster fishery. These sustainable farming ventures produce a by-product that may just help to save our planet from climate change.
Molluscs such as oysters and mussels sequester carbon dioxide in their shells, which are made of calcium carbonate – for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years!
Another significant role the co-op has played in recent years is to have closed off a large section of Clew Bay to any form of dredging or trawling for fish or shellfish.
Within this area are large beds of coralline red algae, collectively called ‘maerl’. Maerl is another carbon sink, as it is made up of over 30 percent calcium carbonate. This same area also has significant seagrass beds, and seagrass has been shown to sequester more carbon than forests. These, as well as the oyster beds throughout Clew Bay, are important ecosystems where fish spawn and life abounds.
By promoting aquaculture and protecting sensitive areas in Clew Bay, the Clew Bay Oyster Co-op is fulfilling a very important role in the mitigation of climate change for all of us in our community. So, the next time you see someone working out on the bay you will know they are helping make matters better, while doing their job.

Did you know?

  • Oysters permanently sequester 441kg CO2-eq  per tonne
  • Harvested mussels sequester 218kg CO2-eq per tonne
  • Ocean seagrass beds sequester more carbon than terrestrial forests