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HONOLULU (AP) — The Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources will attempt to enrich water quality around Pearl Harbor by expanding its oyster-growing project.

The department announced Tuesday that its oyster project is going well and will be expanded, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Several thousand oysters have been grown in Pearl Harbor's West Loch throughout the past year.

The saltwater mollusks are known to naturally remove microorganisms and nutrients from the water and help prevent oxygen depletion that can kill fish.

Analytical Services President Paul Bienfang, who is overseeing the experiment, said the oysters provide an opportunity for a natural "bioremediation" to increase water clarity and allow light to penetrate throughout the water depths, which will enable bottom-dwelling aquatic communities to make a comeback.

West Loch oysters throughout the past year have thrived to the point where they have been growing in population at least 10 percent a week, Bienfang said.

"It appears the first step in this natural remediation has been successful," he said.

National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration estimated that oysters at one time were able to filter all the water in the bay in about a week. However, over-harvesting, disease and habitat loss led to a sharp decline in oyster numbers. It now takes the current oyster population about a year to filter the same amount of water.

Several thousand more oysters will be introduced into West Loch during the project's next phase, including a different species, the Eastern oyster, to go along with the Pacific oysters already growing at Pearl Harbor, Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Bruce Anderson said.

The state spent $100,000 for the one-year study and will apply for grants for several hundred thousand more, Anderson said.

"It's all about environmental restoration," Anderson said.

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