Students of the New York Harbor School’s Professional Diving and Vessel Operations Programs work together to create a billion oyster reef and monitor how it impacts the harbor. The school’s ambitious 1 Billion Oyster Project goal is to introduce 1 billion oysters into New York Harbor, where they will clean the water and create much needed habitat for the restoration of harbor health and a variety of aquatic species.
The program is also going to give huge numbers of students an appreciation for the water that surrounds their city and prepare many for specialized careers that would otherwise be inaccessible to them. Aquatic Program Director Pete Malinowski, explains:
The port employs 300,000 people and only 12% of them went to public school in New York City, so there’s a fundamental disconnect between young people in the city and the water.
The school is situated on Governor’s Island, but Wall Street Journal producer Jeff Bush visited the teams on the water, at the site of an oyster reef they are monitoring. The school’s Co-Founder and President, Murray Fisher, told Bush that as each adult oyster, “filters a gallon of water an hour,” with a billion oysters, “the standing volume of water in New York Harbor could be filtered every 3 days.”
Mark Kurlansky’s book The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell tells about the rise and fall of New York Harbor’s health in relationship to the oyster. According to Kurlansky, all we needed to do to sustain the health of New York Harbor was, continue throwing discarded oyster shells back into the water – because the breakdown of their shells will feed the growth of living oysters. Maybe we’ll be smarter this time around, taking our cue from the success of communities like Olympia, WA.
Maliownski teaches that being a keystone species, oysters “grow on top of each other and build their own habitat.” Oysters attach to each other to create large reefs which in turn, become environments for other species of aquatic life. “In NY Harbor they were the backbone of aquatic life,” Malinowski remarks.
Hopefully, the time is coming soon when they will be again.