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Students research the possibility of cultivating oysters and lobsters at the Waterschans water defences in Bergen op Zoom

Recently, the Waterschans water defences in Bergen op Zoom, located on the old harbour estuary and part of the West Brabant Waterline, were completely renovated. During the work, an old oyster bed was discovered. Four students at HAS University of Applied Sciences who were following the Eating Animals minor researched the reintroduction of oyster and lobster farming to the area.

Esmée Aerts, Sven Faes, Jan-Joost Moerdijk and Eline Schutjes did have to change direction for this assignment. “The Eating Animals minor focusses on the production and consumption of animals and their impact on humans, animals and the planet,” they explain. “It’s logical to immediately think about livestock farming in that context. However, shellfish farming poses similar challenges to livestock farming in terms of aspects such as animal welfare, land use and water use. The project fitted in perfectly with the minor’s subject area.”

Contributing expertise from different fields

This made it an interesting assignment for the students - two studying Livestock Farming, one Applied Biology and one Food Technology - in which each had the opportunity to not only contribute their own knowledge and expertise, but also to look beyond the borders of their own specialisation. And thanks to the advisory report they delivered in mid-November, the municipality of Bergen op Zoom is one step closer to the restoration of the oyster bed.

Fortification in tidal zone

“The Waterschans is the oldest fortification in Bergen op Zoom,” says Cees de Korte, civil engineer and project leader for the municipality of Bergen op Zoom. “It was built in 1584 on the initiative of Prince William of Orange who had also been Marquis of Bergen op Zoom since 1582. The function of the Waterschans was to defend the port entrance. The Waterschans was then in a tidal zone. Centuries later, the municipality sold the Waterschans to a private individual - Meulendijks - who started cultivating oysters and later Canadian lobsters there.”

The Waterschans on an old map.

Gateway to the city

“Around the First World War, a virus broke out and the nurseries disappeared. With the construction of the Oosterschelde works, the area of Zeeland was cut off from the salt water. Bergen op Zoom turned its back on the water as time went on and the Waterschans fell into disrepair. With the restoration of the Waterschans, we want to reverse this movement and open up the city again. The Waterschans should become a gateway to the city, just like it used to be. This is also why we want to investigate the possibility of farming oysters and lobsters again. The discovery of the oyster bed is a special find that we can’t ignore.”

Drilling for salt water

The biggest challenge for this is the disappearance of salt water, because in the area where the Waterschans is located, the surface water is now fresh water. “It would be possible to transport salt water for the farming operation, but we have discovered that salt water is still present under the clay layer in the area. We are now conducting experiments to get this salt water to the surface by drilling.”

The oyster bed.

Best cultivation conditions

Meanwhile, the students researched the best cultivation conditions for the Japanese oyster, flat oyster, Eastern Scheldt lobster, Canadian lobster and European lobster. They explain: “We investigated how these species can best be kept, when the water quality is optimal and what you have to do to keep it that way, and the best shape for the containers in which the creatures are kept. We conducted literature research and held several interviews with experts. Due to the corona measures we had to work a lot from home and unfortunately they also meant we couldn’t go to the Waterschans itself to conduct research. We did manage to get some inspiration in Yerseke in Zeeland where we looked at an active oyster bed."

Starting with an open mind

The students have now finished the assignment. On Cees' desk is an excellent advisory report about the living conditions of oysters and lobsters and how they can best be cultivated in the area. “This report is very valuable to us. We can combine the advice with the advice we received earlier from another mini-group about growing sea lavender and marsh samphire. What's so great about working with students is that they enter into an assignment like this with an open mind. They often come up with extraordinary solutions. What’s more, there’s a real added value in the fact that they are all following different study programmes. This means that different disciplines come to the table and that’s what produces the best results.”