How Oysters Are Contributing To The New York Harbor

The world is your oyster… shell Every week, approximately 8,000 oyster shells are dumped onto Governors Island of New York each week for The Billion Oyster Project. Sourcing oyster...

(Photo: Katie Orlinsky)

The world is your oyster… shell

Every week, approximately 8,000 oyster shells are dumped onto Governors Island of New York each week for The Billion Oyster Project. Sourcing oyster shells that were served from 75 restaurants of New York, utilizing waste to help restore reefs in the New York Harbor.

The harbor once had one of the largest sources of oyster reefs in the world, but overfishing, poor water quality, and disease have damaged a majority of oyster beds in the water around Manhattan. The Billion Oyster project hopes to restore the oyster population by sourcing used oyster shells and placing them back in the harbor to promote more oysters in the future.

Oysters are not only a source of seafood but are an important part of marine ecology with adult oysters having the ability to filter 50 gallons of water daily. More oysters are providing habitat and food for other marine animals with the reef structure to help protect shorelines from waves and storm damage.

Executive Director of the Billion Oyster Project, Pete Malinowski, explains that the past ocean conditions of New York were calmer because the oyster reefs would break up the waves along with supporting salt marshes. Now the ocean conditions are rougher because of the lacking oyster reef infrastructure.

The Billion Oyster Project formed within the New York Harbor School and started their work on Governors Island in 2010. Two years into the project, storm Sandy hit New York and devastated the city’s shoreline with waves over 12 feet high.

The storm’s impact was a huge hit, leaving the city with $19 billion in damages. In 2016, the governor’s office for storm recovery started funding the Billion Oyster Project and its shell collection program.

Oysters shells won’t entirely prevent future floods or storm surges, but this project hopes that it will help New York in the future. This project will also help promote the oyster population for more sustainable fishing in the future.

The shell collection program manager, Charlotte Boesch, explains that baby oysters want to attach themselves onto oyster shells so the project needs a large quantity of shells for the best chance of success. She also goes onto say that the only way to obtain the large quantity needed in the Northeast is to recycle it from restaurants.

If a baby oyster doesn’t attach to a shell, it falls into the mud of the ocean and is not viable to mature into an adult oyster. This project also promotes sustainability as all these leftover shells would be trash wasting away in a landfill, with an estimated 30 tons of oyster shells being dumped weekly.

New York seafood restaurant, Oceana, goes through 1,500 to 2,000 oysters per week and they donate every single shell. All the restaurants had to do was train the staff to dispose of the shells properly for collection and they contribute to a great project.

Once the oysters are collected from the restaurants, they let the shells sunbathe on Governors Island for a year before they’re transferred to the Harbor School’s hatchery. At the hatchery, they let the oysters grow in the lab for a few weeks.

The hatchery oysters are placed in steel rectangular structures that were designed by ocean engineering students and are restored back to the water. The project’s ultimate goal is to have a future where the harbor’s ecosystem is thriving for plant and animal life.