Welcome to Oyster Health Sydney!

This comes to you from the Aquatic Animal Health team in the School of Veterinary Science at The University of Sydney. We are affiliated with The University of Sydney Marine Studies Institute, the Sydney Institute for Infectious Diseases and the Sydney Institute of Agriculture.  We hope you enjoy this site, the opportunity it provides to view our research, and the means it gives you to offer advice, comments and suggestions to assist our research program.

We believe that healthy oysters are central to a sustainable oyster industry, the coastal community it supports and to healthy estuaries. But how do you assess health, and what factors determine whether a healthy batch of oysters will remain healthy in the presence of disease threats? How does the environment and Australia’s biosecurity system affect oysters? How can oysters be managed to minimise the risk of losses due to infectious diseases? Can we immunise oysters? Why not just breed for disease resistance? These are some of the questions we try to answer in our multidisciplinary research program.

We work closely with oyster growers and benefit from their great insight about the best methods for oyster farming. This knowledge includes many traditional practices to avoid common diseases. Unfortunately the emergence of new diseases has increased the risks of farming oysters and this is where science must step up to meet the challenge. Quick fixes do not exist, and those who promise them must eventually produce evidence.

The Australian oyster industry faces many challenges due to climate (fire, flood and climate change) and human-associated environmental conflicts (urban estuarine pollution, agricultural runoff). Superimposed are infectious diseases like Pacific Oyster Mortality Syndrome (POMS), which is caused by a marine herpesvirus and QX disease caused by a parasite. This blog will be focussed for some time on POMS. However, the principles we use in POMS research are directly applicable to QX.

Fundamental research on the life history of infectious disease (epidemiology, using tools of microbiology, virology, parasitology, immunology and pathology) should accompany applied research on approaches such as husbandry and genetic selection so that efforts are focussed and lead to measurable outcomes rather than anecdotes. Sadly, we know exponentially more about POMS, a disease that has been present in Australia only since 2010 than we know about QX disease, which has been present for more than 50 years, due to poor research leadership on the latter.

We communicate our findings in a variety of ways, including via this website. We ensure rigorous standards in research and ensure that our findings are publicly available for assessment by industry and the international scientific community. We aim to publish in scientific journals in a timely manner to encourage uptake and independent verification of our results in other settings – please look at “Scientific Publications”. We are accessible and meet with farmers, farming associations and media. We have produced Fact Sheets that may be useful in the face of a POMS disease outbreak, to assist with disinfection, prevention of mortalities in hatcheries, and to help reduce losses and salvage value when an outbreak occurs on farm – please look at NEW:POMS Fact Sheets.

Despite progress in the husbandry of oysters, and claims about improved genetics, it is currently impossible to restock a farm with  spat in a POMS endemic area and be confident about their survival. Results from commercial trials in NSW in which POMS disease events were to be monitored closely in 2018 cannot be properly interpreted. For POMS, environmental conditions, specifically low water temperatures, do favour survival in some estuaries particularly those in the south and in Tasmania in most years, but climate change will remove this advantage over time.

The oyster industries require ongoing research and development for new innovations and future prosperity, but without leadership to define endemic disease research needs, and appropriate resourcing and supervision of suitably qualified research teams, the default position of biosecurity crisis management during disease flare ups will prevail.

Emeritus Professor Richard Whittington

University of Sydney,

Camden, NSW Australia

Last updated: November 2022

12 responses to “Welcome

  1. Thank you for providing such a forum for Oyster Farmers and others to converse and share in a free environment, vital information and thoughts on the subject of POMS, QX and WM, a great idea.


  2. Appreciate your efforts in getting your research results into the public domain. Readers maybe interested in tracking current water quality in the Hawkesbury at http://mhl.nsw.gov.au/projects/berowra/latest.php
    and http://mhl.nsw.gov.au/projects/hscsal/ (websites are updated every 6hours).

    You are welcome to use this data to find an environemntal “POMS trigger” for either its absence or occurrence if appropriate.


  3. Great information tool guys! I will spread the word among oyster growers.
    Very ‘interesting’ results so far (from the ‘Our POMS research’ tab). I will explore best option of sharing the results from the Oyster Monitoring Program (data on growth and mortalities) currently undertaken at the Hawkesbury, Shoalhaven, Merimbula and Pambula.

  4. Hi Richard and Ika
    Dont know how you manage to get time to update the site with your workload at present. I hope that industry appreciates the effort that you have both put in gathering all the data as literally the @#*% hit the fan. If you had of waited and not gone on with your gut instincts industry would have missed out for another year in picking up the start of the POMS in Georges River. For that I would truely thank you both. You have been johnny on the spot. I am sure that the oyster industry will learn a lot from the data once you have the time to consolidate.


  5. Great communication tool, format and initiative on your behalf on this important issue. This should provide for great communication between all stakeholders which is a necessity in moving forward to achieve outcomes. As Ana indicated – we will be sure to align the Oyster Information Portal concept to feature initiatives like this one.
    Keep up the momentum.

  6. New gadget to look at the ‘happiness’ of the oysters based on the environmental conditions: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iT49Hfcl8-6l-p9X6sj-PYvda6QQ?docId=CNG.598626a4b87e150b6b89473d89e5a47e.851

  7. Some media on POMS from France ‘Herpes Virus Makes Oysters a Scarce Delicacy Over France’s Holiday Season’ : http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-12-21/herpes-virus-makes-oysters-a-scarce-delicacy-in-france-s-holiday-season.html
    Interesting citation ‘“You don’t see the same thing from oyster grower to the next,” the 37-year-old said. “It depends on the location.”
    – similar situation with the Georges trials, right?

  8. For your interest. Recent additions and upgrades to the Hawkebsury Probes include:
    1. Courangra Point probe redployed
    2. Rainfall data now displayed on the website
    View the latest data at: http://mhl.nsw.gov.au/projects/berowra/latest.php
    and http://mhl.nsw.gov.au/projects/hscsal/

  9. Great website to share infomation! Keep it up.

  10. Great format – Thanks for getting everything in the one place.

    I’ll send the link out to the Tassie and South Australian oyster industry.


    Ian Duthie
    Tasmanian Oyster Research Council

  11. Richard, good record keeping. We understand that as the salt water returns to the upper reaches after the significant rainfall of Australia day that closed the river to oyster harvesting, mortalities in the upper harvest areas where bigger oysters are present are now being recorded again. Hot weather over the last few days and forecast again to day will probably not assist in reducing this trend.

  12. Great work! I have read and interested with the scientific publications from your team recently, and got more details about your research from this website I found occasionally. It provided us much information about the POMS has occurred in Australia. I thought this information will be meaningful for our work in China.

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