Merimbula oyster farmers star in award winning environmental documentary

Dom Boyton of Merimbula Gourmet Oysters stars in Kim Beamish's documentary, Oyster. Image: Kim Beamish
Dom Boyton of Merimbula Gourmet Oysters stars in Kim Beamish's documentary, Oyster. Image: Kim Beamish

Local oyster farmers have gained international attention after a documentary featuring their work won Best Environmental Feature Film at the Chesapeake Film Festival in Virginia, USA. 

Dom and Pip Boyton of Merimbula Gourmet Oysters are at the centre of the film Oyster, directed by Kim Beamish and produced by Pat Fiske, that explores the impact of climate change on their business.  

On October 28, Oyster was shown alongside big name films such as Al Gore’s sequel to An Inconvenient Truth and took out the environment award over Before The Flood, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio.

“We were up against some pretty big players, so it feels good to win,” Mr Beamish said. 

“They spent millions where we spent thousands, but the strength of your story determines its worth.” 

On the same night, Mr Beamish and the Boytons attended the world premiere of Oyster at the Canberra International Film Festival.

Dom and Pip Boyton provided freshly shucked oysters before the film premiere. Mr Beamish said it gave the audience a rare opportunity to eat the film’s main character. 

Mr Boyton only watched the film once it was complete.

“It’s kind of weird to watch yourself in a movie, but I enjoyed it, the message of the film comes out very subtly,” he said. 

“He did a really good job, pulling smalls things our conversations to bring attention to the bigger issue.”

Mr Beamish said the film drew it strength from the farmers’ personal story. 

“I wanted it to be intimate and it helps that Dom and Pip are so relatable,” he said.

“There are no scientists banging on about facts and figures, we wanted to look at climate change from the perspective of people who see it everyday.”

Oyster focuses on the effects changing weather, water temperature and ubanisation have on the Boyton’s farm. 

“In the last 10 years we’ve noticed the water hasn’t been as cold as it used to be,” Mr Boyton said.

“We are seeing more algae growth, which can provide more food for oysters, but it also increases the amount of toxic algae.”

The growing population and waste management of Merimbula also affects their operations.

Two sewage leaks into Merimbula Lake, one during filming and one on the weekend of the premiere, have put enormous pressure on the family.

“Obviously increasing populations are not always bad, but the effects can be devastating,” Mr Boyton said.  

“We had to close for 21 days during the sewage leak, that’s a long time with no income especially when you’ve got nine staff to look after.”

Unprecedented changes to the environment mean the oyster farmers need to make difficult decisions regarding their businesses, a challenged shared by many in the agriculture industry. 

“We’re looking at how climate change affects the oyster industry, but that really extends to all agriculture and primary industries,” Mr Beamish said. 

“For that reason, we’re hoping to screen to councils, to schools and circulate through environmental groups and universities, to use this film as an impact campaign.” 

Mr Beamish plans to enter the film into more competitions in the new year in the hope of promote not just his work, but also the issue of climate change. 

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