Introduction

Project code FRDC 2012-032

POMS is a serious disease affecting Pacific oysters. The disease is caused by a virus (Ostreid herpesvirus or OsHV-1) that has the potential to devastate the Australian Pacific Oyster industry. For this reason research has been activated to address national priorities.

In July 2012, we began a new research project seeking to understand where the POMS virus found in Australia originated, where it is in the environment (natural reservoirs for the virus), how it is transmitted and spreads, and which factors lead to disease outbreaks.

The project will run over three years and include intensive field work on oyster leases in Botany Bay – one of only two infected areas in Australia, giving us a unique opportunity to study the disease in real conditions. Healthy oyster leases on the Hawkesbury River, free of any sign of disease, will be studied for comparison. In parallel, laboratory experiments in new facilities at the University of Sydney will be conducted to study in minute detail particular aspects of the virus (stability, inactivation, transmission). Both approaches (in situ and in laboratory) are complementary and should ensure rapid progress towards a solution.

Improving the understanding of POMS disease behaviour will not only benefit the Pacific Oyster industry across Australia but also other fish and shellfish industries affected  by diseases, by transferring research methods and findings. This project may also inform development of land use and quarantine policies.

This work follows a previous FRDC project 2011/053 conducted by the Aquatic Animal Health unit of the University of Sydney which gave unique preliminary insight into POMS disease. A trial of new husbandry practices gave promising results as oyster survival rates increased by 30-70% depending on the age of oysters and the cultivation system.  These observations will be extended over time to confirm the key findings and identify a range of factors which may be used by oyster growers to reduce the impact of the infection (for more details see Field trial 2011).

The project is supported by funding from the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation on behalf of the Australian government, as well as funding from the University of Sydney and the Sydney Metropolitan Catchment Management Authority Botany Bay Water Quality Improvement Program (BBWQIP), with the strong support of oyster growers from the Georges and the Hawkesbury Rivers and Hornsby Shire Council.

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