U.S. Navy To Use Native Oysters To Improve Water Quality In Pearl Harbor

Feb 26, 2019

Oysters, such as the Hawaiian Oyster and Black-lip Pearl Oyster, are native to Pearl Harbor. The Navy will eventually use them to improve water quality within the harbor.
Credit Navy Region Hawaii / U.S. Navy

The U.S. Navy is experimenting with native oysters to improve the water quality in Pearl Harbor.

It’s partnering with Oʻahu Waterkeepers, and the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center at UH-Hilo to study native oyster species, and add more to those already in Pearl Harbor.

The project is based on the results of several studies – including one by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources using the non-native Pacific Oyster. The DLNR found the oysters thrived in the harbor and improved water quality.

"Oysters remove organic and inorganic particles because they're filter feeders," says Beckie Springer, a Natural Resources Specialist with the Navy. "They can selectively choose and feed on microscopic phytoplankton/algae. And they can also remove everything from bacteria, heavy metals, PCBs, oils, microplastics, and even sunscreen chemicals."

Oysters can also remove carbon from the water and use it to build their shells.

The Navy, and it's partners, plan to use two species of oyster native to Pearl Harbor for the project: the Hawaiian Oyster (Dendostrea sandvicensis) and the Black-lip Pearl Oyster (Pinctada margaritifera).

But first the Navy is conducting a pilot study, which involves the collection of native oysters in the harbor for genetic and disease testing. They will later be used for breeding at the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center in Hilo. "We are developing hatchery production methods for native bivalve species, in part because many local species have become rare and may possibly require protection," stated Dr. Maria Haws, Director of PACRC.

Springer says that once the baby oysters produced at PACRC are large enough for release, they will be transferred back to Pearl Harbor. 

A more comprehensive project involving the oysters will be unveiled in the future, after the pilot study is completed.