Rebuilding New York City’s Oyster Reefs

The Big Apple is famous for its bright lights, architecture, attractions, and its bustling city. But did you know that New York Harbour was once one of the most impressive marine ecosystems on the planet? 

A Brief History Lesson

In 1609, New York City was home to 350 square miles of oyster reefs. The harbor accounted for nearly half of the world’s oyster population, some of which were recorded to be almost a foot long! Try dragging that into your next oyster party. 

Oysters were used for all kinds of things over the years, including burning the shells for lime. But mainly, they were eaten. Oyster stands were as typical as hotdog stands are today.

By the time 1910 rolled around, the population was in trouble. 

Overfishing and water pollution had caused the oyster beds to decline rapidly, and the last of the city’s oyster fisheries were finally shut down in 1927.

Present Day

All these years later, New York’s oysters still haven’t been able to recover. A real shame when you consider just one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day while it eats, removing all kinds of nasty chemicals and pollutants.

Oyster reefs even help protect coastal cities from storm damage. They soften the blow of waves, reduce flooding, and prevent erosion.  

Initiatives like the Billion Oyster Project are trying to help.

You’re Invited To An Oyster Party

This program aims to restore the New York Harbour to its glory days by adding a billion oysters to the water by 2035. Various education initiatives mean citizens and students can also take part in the restoration efforts. 

To date, more than 70 schools and 75 restaurants jumped on board, along with 9,000 volunteers. 

The recruited restaurants are helping by recycling the shells from the oysters they serve. So far, more than a million have been cleaned and sent to New York Harbour School, where students get to work on growing new ones.

It’s an incredible process; in an aquaculture hatchery, larvae are produced. Once they grow limbs for latching, they are moved to a tank with the shells from the restaurant. According to NPR, a single shell can house 10-20 new oysters. 

Beyond growing oysters, the students also design and build reef structures, dive to monitor the reefs, operate boats, and do marine biology research. 

It’s amazing what can be accomplished when everyone does their part. The project has successfully planted 28 million oysters in the harbor, with many more to come! 

The booming oyster population also has a trickle-down effect; for the first time in a century, Popular Science says humpback whales have returned to New York City’s waters. Dolphins and seals are also back enjoying the cleaner environment.

Initiatives like the Billion Oyster Project can change the world. We need more of them.  

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Catherine Sherriffs

Editor at Garden Culture Magazine

Catherine is a Canadian award-winning journalist who worked as a reporter and news anchor in Montreal’s radio and television scene for 10 years. A graduate of Concordia University, she left the hustle and bustle of the business after starting a family. Now, she’s the editor and a writer for Garden Culture Magazine while also enjoying being a mom to her three young kids. Her interests include great food, gardening, fitness, animals, and anything outdoors.