Current Status of European Oyster Decline and Restoration in Germany
Marine ecosystems of temperate regions are highly modified by human activity and far from their original natural status. The North Sea, known as an intensively used area, has lost its offshore oyster grounds due to overexploitation in a relatively short time. Native oyster beds as a once abundant and ecologically highly important biogenic reef-type have vanished from the North Sea ecosystem in most areas of both their former distribution and magnitude. Worldwide, oyster stocks have been severely exploited over the past centuries. According to estimates, about 85% of the worldwide oyster reef habitats have been destroyed over the course of the last century. This loss of oyster populations has meant far more than just the loss of a valuable food resource. Oyster reefs represent a characteristic benthic community which offers a variety of valuable ecosystem services: better water quality, local decrease of toxic algal blooms, increase in nutrient uptake, increase of bentho-pelagic coupling, increase in species richness, increase of multidimensional biogenic structures which provide habitat, food, and protection for numerous invertebrate and fish species. The aim of oyster restoration is to promote redevelopment of this valuable missing habitat. The development of strategies, methods, and procedures for a sustainable restoration of the European oyster Ostrea edulis in the German North Sea is currently a focus of marine nature conservation. Main drivers for restoring this ecological key species are the enhancement of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the marine environment. Results of these investigations will support the future development and implementation of a large-scale and long-term German native oyster restoration programme to re-establish a healthy population of this once-abundant species now absent from the region.