There was once a time when New York's harbor was packed with water-cleaning oysters, and students at the New York Harbor School have been hard at work with a plan to restore the waterway to that state. Through the school's innovative Billion Oyster Project (BOP), the kids have been implementing efforts aimed at cleaning up New York Harbor by stimulating populations of everyone's favorite slimy mollusk. Using a hands-on educational approach, the goal of the program, which works with local youth, is to filter the harbor's notorious murky waters by reviving the local oyster population to one billion by 2030.
While some may think that the slimy little creature is only good with a little tabasco and served on a cracker, the reality is that the oyster, a bivalve mollusk, is actually a powerful cog in our water ecosystem. In fact, one little oyster is capable of filtering one gallon of water an hour, therefore making its role in our waterways essential. Additionally, oysters are the only shellfish that create their own habitat by growing on top of each other, creating large reefs for other marine life.
What does this mean for New York Harbor, which is one of the busiest ports in the country? According to Murray Fisher, president and co-founder of the New York Harbor School, the standing volume of New York Harbor is 74 billion gallons of water. Theoretically speaking, if one oyster can filter one gallon of water an hour, one billion oysters would filter 24 billion gallons of water per day. The significance of this would mean that if the BOP program proves to be successful, our harbor water could be completely filtered once every three days.
In addition to the ultimate goal of reviving the oyster population, the long-term, large-scale program is dedicated to teaching local city kids about the complex ecology and history of New York waterways. During their time in BOP, participants learn to SCUBA dive safely, raise oyster larvae, operate and maintain vessels, build and operate commercial-scaled oyster nurseries, design underwater monitoring equipment, and conduct long-term research projects all in the murky waters of the bustling city harbor.
Teaching children about the full cycle of oyster population care, from restoration and to future growth cycles, is a way to engage the local population in caring about the city’s waterways for years to come. So far, since the program was started roughly six years ago, thousands of students have helped reintroduce over 11 million oysters to the waterways. And although the city’s oyster population has yet to be considered sustainable, the program’s educational value to the city is widely considered a pearl of a success.
Images via Billion Oyster Project