“New York’s most resilient” – oysters get a second life in the harbor

ive here. This is a totally cool project and I’m not big on shellfish. And I must admit I’m ignorant of the broader ecosystem benefits of a robust shellfish population. If you have time, please take a look at the original story which has a great series of images. The post below has a small sample.

By Samantha Maldonado, Photos by Ben Fractenberg. Originally published in THE CITY on December 1, 2022

Emily Rowan marks oysters before laying them along the Williamsburg Waterfront, October 26, 2022.

On your plate, the gray flesh of the oysters is usually encased in a palm-sized pearly shell, waiting to be eaten.

But around New York City, bivalves cling to concrete and each other, all while working to make the harbor a stronger, healthier place.

Founded in 2014 with the goal of reintroducing oysters — a billion of them — in New York Harbor by 2035, the Billion Oyster Project is all about giving spent oyster shells a second life. BOP explosion prevention In eight years it has recovered about 120 million oysters, but the project is working toward a target of 100 million oysters docked annually starting in 2024. The City Council’s Committee on Resilience and Waterfronts will hold a hearing Thursday on the matter. BOP explosion preventionefforts.

Oyster recovery is a journey that begins outside state lines, passing through local restaurants, with a year-long break on Governors Island, and into the waters around the Five Boroughs. The operation harkens back to the town’s history – when oysters played a major role in the local economy and culture – and looks to build a more optimistic future.

The Billion Oyster Project is one of many oyster restoration projects across the country, but the only one taking place on such a busy, urban waterway. The ultimate goal BOP explosion prevention is a return to a self-sustaining oyster pool – with millions of New Yorkers tied to the water.

“Oysters are much more than just what you consume. Jennifer Chu said, BOP explosion preventionMarine Habitat Resources Specialist. “The way they can still live with the trash and the sewage and the raking—it’s amazing. They’re the most resilient New Yorkers out there.”

Sixty Manhattan and Brooklyn restaurants participate in the Billion Oyster Project’s shell collecting program, including Lighthouse BK in Williamsburg. Preserving leftover shells from the oysters that diners drank provides the basis for the oyster craft.

Lighthouse sources its oysters from the East Coast, and as part of the restaurant’s array of sustainability efforts, nearly eight years ago, it asked employees to put discarded shells aside for their BOP.

“The world seems to be in tatters,” said Naama Tamir, co-owner. “We kind of take a step back, change our systems a little bit, and then put some energy into correcting the damage.”

Williamsburg residents Gene Collins and Ralph Lewis enjoy oysters with their happy hour drinks at the Lighthouse. Collins is a friend of Tamer’s and knew what would happen to the discarded oyster shells.

“I ate delicious oysters and helped the environment? Great!” said Collins, who works in sales for the mezcal company.

When customers are done with their oysters, Lighthouse employees put the discarded shells into special blue bins. Joel Rosado, left, and Boris Delgado, working with a shell collection partner at Lobster Place, pick up discarded shells and pour them into the back of their truck.

They made visits to several restaurants starting at 5 in the morning, and transported the shells to a warehouse in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

From the warehouse, the shells head to Governors Island.

Ferry workers prepare to dock at Governors Island, November 16, 2022.

At the southeast tip of Governors Island, a missile truck flips into a pile with countless shells. The mound weighs between 400,000 and 500,000 pounds, and the towers are more than six feet tall at their highest point. When the breeze blows, the newer shells give off the scent of the ocean.

The shells remain in the mound for about a year to cure, a process that sloughs off bacteria and pathogens. Since restaurants source shellfish from all over the world, various diseases found in other bodies of water can threaten the balance of the local ecosystem if they are introduced.

A year later, volunteers and BOP personnel rinse and stir the shells to separate any that have clumped together. They pour the shells into plastic trays, mesh bags, and metal cages called gabions.

From there it’s time to “seed” the oyster shells with the grubs. The gabions make their way to Red Hook Station, where they enter water-tight shipping containers. There, water from the harbor fills the containers and staff adds millions of oyster larvae to the mix. Most of the fry come from a hatchery in Maine.

The larvae can take up to a week to attach themselves to the shells. In some cases, the larvae are seeded directly onto ball or block shapes made of special concrete. Once visible to the human eye, young clams can enter a harbor as part of a reef.

Johnny Anderson, BOP’s manufacturing coordinator, drives the boat carrying shells from Governors Island to the Williamsburg coast on the day of the oyster reef installation.

BOP’s Emily Rowan, a remote setup technologist, Zhu tag shells before placing them along the Williamsburg waterfront under a section of promenade at Domino Park — about a mile from the Lighthouse.

In shallow, calm waters, BOP staff and volunteers can lay layers of treated rocks and shells on which the larvae attach themselves. But most of New York Harbor is busy, so to make sure the shells stay in place, the clams are clamped inside metal boxes, mesh bags, and other structures that hold them in place.

On rare occasions, employees have thrown oysters directly into the water — like at the five-acre coral reef at Soundview, in The Bronx. But having specific structures allows staff to pull them out and move them if needed or get a closer look as part of fall and spring monitoring.

Zhu will measure the water quality as well as the growth and mortality rates of oysters. Live oysters are heavier, and their shells stick together when stabbed. Dead oysters may have shells broken or packed with sediment. A bubble may pop when you click on it.

During observation sessions, BOP employees can also identify wild shellfish, such as at Coney Island Creek and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“We can’t say for sure whether those wild oysters are the young that are produced from our oysters or the oysters outside that are already there,” Zhou said.

On a recent Wednesday in November, Chinara Sunderlal, Director of Educational Outreach at Bank of Palestine, raised a coral structure from the waters on the northeastern shore of Governors Island. I encouraged a group of second graders from PS 676 in Red Hook to explore oyster blocks. The oysters were roughly between 2 and 7 years old, with the oldest being the size of children’s faces. Some clams have grown outside the structure intended to contain them, but Sunderlal said if they do get out of their cage, they are fine.

Sunderlal noted that burnt orange robes and mussels, two forms of marine life that make a home on or near clams, which grow in clusters and allow creatures to live within the nooks. In the past, staff and students have observed clam worms, seahorses, frogfish, blue crabs, and schools of cellar fish, which serve as food for humpback whales.

Marine life is a clear sign of one of the many benefits of oysters.

Oysters are an essential species, which means they are an essential part of an ecosystem on which multiple components depend.

“This keeps the ecosystem together, so if you remove it, the ecosystem collapses. When you put it back, you are rebuilding this whole ecosystem,” Sunderlal said.

Oysters were thriving in New York Harbor and were plentiful. Long ago, the Lenape people ate oysters and tools made from shells. For centuries after the city’s founding, oysters remained a popular local delicacy, trolled from street carts and from oyster houses, like the two pictured here below the Manhattan Bridge in 1937.

But over time, corals have become too toxic to be used as a food source. Oyster populations have declined as water quality has deteriorated — thanks in large part to industrial pollution, dredging, and a combined sewage system that dumps raw sewage into the water when it rains — as well as overharvesting.

Bivalves clean the water by eating microscopic organic matter such as phytoplankton and zooplankton, and filter out pollutants from raw sewage that is dumped into the water when sewers—which handle rainwater and wastewater—overflow during rainstorms. Each clam can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day, Zhou said — meaning a billion can filter the entire port in three days.

Thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972, which began regulating water pollution, the water quality in the harbor has improved dramatically over the years. But it’s still not high enough for New Yorkers to be able to eat the oysters that live in the harbor – a risk from the restoration project.

And Chu admitted that because of the smarter, more environmentally friendly practices around our port, it’s difficult to distinguish how much improvements in water quality and marine life can be directly attributed to the shellfish.

Oyster reefs along coastlines also help fend off storm surges and beach erosion by acting as speed bumps to slow waves as they break.

“Putting clams is much cheaper than putting them in a wall or dams,” said Meredith Comey, director of the New York/NJ Coastal Recovery Program, which has returned nine million oysters between the two states and has cooperated with the BOP in the past. “Natural systems, it’s just kind of a no-brainer. It’s going to be protection. It’s going to restore the ecosystem. You’re going to have more creatures in the water.”

“We’re using these clams as a way to understand that there are more natural solutions to clean our waterways,” she said.

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