The waters around NYC were once packed with oysters, but over harvesting and our growing population—and its considerable sewage—helped make them "functionally extinct." But now the NYC Department of Environmental Protection is in the midst of planting 50,000 in Jamaica Bay. "This oyster bed will serve multiple purposes—protecting our wetlands from erosion, naturally filtering our water and providing a home for our sea dwellers are just a few," Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. "More broadly, this oyster bed is a small but necessary step in our broader OneNYC commitment to create a more sustainable and more resilient City."
This will be "the largest single installation of breeding oysters," according to the city. The NYC DEP is working with the Billion Oyster Project and a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Interior (the DEP is kicking in $375,000). From the press release:
The New York/New Jersey Harbor was once blanketed by oysters, but due to over harvesting, dredging and pollution, they became functionally extinct decades ago. Oysters are widely recognized as a key component of a healthy marine ecosystem as they filter pollutants from the water, help to protect wetlands and shoreline from erosion and storm surge, and provide habitat for communities of fish and other aquatic organisms. Once the oyster installation is complete, water quality in the vicinity of the beds will be monitored for anticipated improvements in dissolved oxygen, nitrogen removal and turbidity. In addition, the beds will be evaluated for the recruitment of new oysters...
The installation will include a central donor bed composed of 50,000 adult and spat-on-shell oysters as well as four smaller receiving beds composed of clam/oyster shell and broken porcelain. The porcelain was harvested from nearly 5,000 inefficient toilets that were recycled from the citywide water conservation program. Having reached reproductive maturity, it is anticipated that the adult oysters will spawn. The resulting fertilized eggs will grow as free-floating larvae in the water column until the young oysters will attach themselves to the shells of the parent oysters on the donor bed or onto any one of the four receiver beds. With successful establishment and recruitment, the donor bed and the receiving beds are anticipated to show a measurable increase in oyster larvae attachment as well as an increase in the growth of mature oysters. Once established, the hope is that the oysters will become self-sustaining, spawning seasonally and providing new recruits.
Author Mark Kurlansky, who wrote the book The Big Oyster, about NYC's history with oysters, told NPR, "It's a kind of a lost history, but New York was an oyster center. It was always associated with oysters. In past centuries, if you were to say, I'm going to New York, the most likely response would be, enjoy the oysters. It was known for oysters. Oysters were sold in stands on every street corner. You could go to these huge open markets downtown any time of night and get oyster stew or raw oysters."
All five boroughs produced oysters. There were enormous oyster beds. New Yorkers never think about it this way, but New York City is the estuary of the Hudson River and it's this vast estuary of tidal basins and marshes and grassy wetlands and places that are perfect for growing oysters. And they did by the millions and ate an enormous amount of them and also sold them all over the world...
From the time of the American Revolution till the last beds were closed in 1927, the price barely moved and there was something called The Canal Street Plan, which was all you could eat for six cents, at a time when Delmonico's was charging 50 cents a berry for out-of-season strawberries.
This installation comes after earlier pilot studies that showed oysters could survive and even reproduce in Jamaica Bay. Adam Parris, Executive Director of the Jamaica Bay Science and Resiliency Institute, said, "Jamaica Bay is home to a tremendous amount of wildlife as well as to many New Yorkers. This is an exciting opportunity to advance science that can be used to revitalize and transform Jamaica Bay. Oysters have been shown to improve water quality and ecosystem health in other locations, and it can provide an important teaching tool to residents living near wetland habitats about the environment."