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New York Harbor using one billion oysters to help fight climate change

Date: 31-Oct-19
Author: Doug Donnellan

Oysters have incredible filtering capability that can dramatically improve nearby water quality.

Oysters have incredible filtering capability that can dramatically improve nearby water quality.

In an effort to defend against rising sea temperatures and increasingly powerful hurricanes brought on by climate change, one school in New York City believes that bringing back its bivalve population is the solution.

The Billion Oyster Project (BOP), coordinated by the New York Harbor School, began growing and re-introducing oysters in the area in 2008 and plans to restore the waters to their former glory. By 2035, the project aims to grow and distribute 1 billion oysters within 100 acres around the harbour.

In 1609, an estimated 90,000 hectares of oyster reefs existed in the pristine New York Harbor. By the early 20th century, most of the oysters were either consumed or covered up in silt, causing the water quality to suffer. The 1972 Clean Water Act was a great start in preventing further pollution to enter the water, but there was still more to be done. As the water improved, the opportunity to “re-plant” oysters became a reality. 

Oysters are renowned for their incredible filtering capability and can filter nearly 200 litres of water each per day. The reefs themselves also serve as natural breakwaters, helping to defend against erosion and hurricanes.  According to BOP data, 30 million oysters have been grown since the start of the project, and almost 75 trillion litres has been filtered.

The project adds to the STEM curriculum designed for students at years 4 – 10, and is currently used in over 70 schools in New York City. Students learn about marine sciences and the aquaculture practices that improve ecosystem health. The BOP also works alongside over 70 restaurants and helps to divert some of the estimated 500,000 spent shells that end up in landfills every week. The shells are a valuable resource that can be used as a growing medium for building up new reefs after being processed by students.  

"We can measure an improvement in water quality and see an immediate impact on biodiversity everywhere we put a reef down," says Pete Malinowsk, Executive Director of the BOP. "Through this work, students develop awareness and affinity for the resource and the confidence that comes from knowing their actions can make a difference. With young people who care, the harbor has a real fighting chance."



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Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.


Doug                                              Donnellan
Author: Doug Donnellan

Doug joined Planet Ark's Information Centre team in April 2019 after completing a Master's of Sustainability. As a professional chef with his own catering business, Doug possesses a strong interest in food sustainability.

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