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Sir Ben Ainslie joins fight to save oysters in Solent

Published 26/12/2015

Sir Ben Ainslie and his team identified a threat to the ecosystem needed for oysters to thrive in the Solent
Sir Ben Ainslie and his team identified a threat to the ecosystem needed for oysters to thrive in the Solent

The collapse of the multimillion-pound oyster fishing industry in the Solent is being tackled by Sir Ben Ainslie and his America's Cup racing team.

When the Land Rover Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) team set up its base in Portsmouth, the team identified a threat to the ecosystem needed for oysters to thrive.

It is thought the decline in oysters has been caused by a combination of factors including water quality and temperature, poaching and dredging.

Now a series of oyster cages are being installed on the pontoons at the base where Sir Ben and his team are building their racing yacht in a bid to win the prestigious yacht race in 2017.

Sarah Alexander, Land Rover BAR spokeswoman, said: "The Solent had once supported an oyster trade worth millions of pounds, but in the last few years has seen a rapid decline in the native oyster population, and the subsequent collapse of the oyster fishery in the area.

"It might seem unusual for a sports team like Land Rover BAR to be involved in a project like this, but sustainability is an integral part of the team's ethos.

"Working alongside their exclusive sustainability partner 11th Hour Racing, they are committed to becoming the most sustainable sports team in the UK."

The team are working with the Blue Marine Foundation charity which carried out a study, sponsored by marine company MDL, looking at the feasibility of the project.

Ms Alexander added: "The concept was simple, to nurture protected cages of adult oysters at the team base, replicated on pontoons to reproduce and 'reseed' the wider fishery."

The oysters were provided by the Southern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA) which worked with local fishermen to relocate oysters from an area which was due to be dredged as part of a programme to deepen the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour ready for the next generation of Royal Navy aircraft carriers.

Jo Meekley, of MDL Marinas, explained: "MDL have developed a pontoon structure that can be attached to any standard pontoon that will house the oysters in an environment that will hopefully lead to their successful reproduction."

At the end of November the first set of oyster cages were installed on the Land Rover BAR pontoon on the Camber in Old Portsmouth.

Dr Joanne Preston, of the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Portsmouth, said: "It's fantastic to see stage one complete, the oysters are in so we can now start collecting the data to gain a better understanding into what is happening to the oysters and the ecosystem around them."

Dr Susie Tomson, Land Rover BAR's sustainability manager, said: "It has been great to pull all the parties together to realise the common goal to restore a local ecosystem and whilst we are a long way off the total recovery, it's a positive start and a great collaborative effort."

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