Native oysters making a return to Pearl Harbor

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The U.S. Navy, O’ahu Waterkeeper and the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center (PACRC) at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo have joined forces to use native species of shellfish to improve water clarity and quality in the Pearl Harbor estuary.    

 This unique partnership will sponsor the first large-scale effort to use native shellfish species for harbor water quality improvement, modeled on research trials by the PACRC with the native Hawaiian Oyster species in Hilo Bay.    

 Historically, the Pearl Harbor area was known as “Wai Momi” or “pearl waters.”  Native shellfish species were once abundant in the area and are preserved in history through Native Hawaiian chants, songs, and legends.  

 Capt. Jeff Bernard, commanding officer of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, is happy to support this project.   

 “Our partnership with Oahu Waterkeepers on this oyster remediation project is a great example of Navy’s initiative of improving and taking care of our environment,” said Bernard.  

 The project builds on a successful feasibility study conducted by the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources, utilizing a nonnative species, Crassostrea gigas (known as the Pacific Oyster), as a tool to improve clarity and quality of waters within Pearl Harbor. While the Pacific Oyster survives and grows well in Pearl Harbor and it may continue to be used for bioremediation. The new project will focus on native shellfish species because of their deep cultural significance and in hopes of replenishing and restoring these species to the marine ecosystem.    

 The partnership plans to use two species of oyster native to Pearl Harbor: Dendostrea sandvicensis (Hawaiian Oyster) and Pinctada margaritifera (Black-lip Pearl Oyster).    

 “We are developing hatchery production methods for native bivalve species, in part because many local species have become rare and may possibly require protection.  For example, the Black-lip Pearl Oyster is already a Protected Species under State Law,” stated Dr. Maria Haws, the Director of PACRC.  

 Native oysters filter between 20 and 45 gallons of water per day, depending on their size, removing harmful pollutants including sediment, bacteria, heavy metals, PCBs, oil, microplastics, sunscreen chemicals and nutrients from the water column, which improves water clarity and quality.    

 “This project will further the Navy’s environmental stewardship activities in Pearl Harbor and hopefully lead to long-lasting positive effects on the harbor through sustained augmentation of oyster beds,” said Cory Campora, Navy’s natural resources manager.  

 Oysters also remove carbon from the water and use it to build their shells, underscoring their importance in our changing climate and marine environment.    

 The oysters produced by the project are for restoration only, not for consumption.  Commercially farmed oysters in other near shore areas of Oahu are safe to eat because the waters they are grown in are regularly tested by the Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH).  

 The proposed project is modeled after several successful partnerships with Waterkeeper organizations on the U.S East Coast involving the restoration of native oysters to improve water quality, including the, “Billion Oyster Project,” in New York Harbor.    

 Under the direction of Board President Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement to protect water resources, currently uniting over 330 Waterkeeper organizations throughout 41 countries around the world.

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