Oysters in New York Harbor get a boost

CCA’s Building Conservation Trust sponsors event benefitting Billion Oyster Project

Posted on October 03, 2014

NEW YORK, NY – Conservationists gathered for an evening of education and discussion in lower Manhattan this week to lend their support to a visionary plan to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor over the next 20 years. Known as the Billion Oyster Project, the effort is a partnership of schools, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals all working together to grow oysters and make the city a healthier and more resilient place to live.

“This is a large-scale restoration of a major estuary that has so much potential on so many levels,” said Patrick Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “Not only are oysters the building blocks to restoring a wide variety of marine life, this unique effort can be the spark to reconnect the people of New York to this tremendous resource right in their own backyard. It is an honor for our habitat program to help this incredible vision in any way."

“Imagine if we could teach and inspire millions of disengaged, urban teenagers nation-wide to restore their local degraded ecosystems through hands-on projects linked to standards-based curricula in their public schools,” said Murray Fisher, president of the New York Harbor Foundation. “The potential impact of a model like the Billion Oyster Project on education and ecosystems restoration is staggering. But we can only accomplish such an ambitious goal here in New York City with experienced and generous partners like the Coastal Conservation Association."

Oyster reefs once covered more than 220,000 acres of the New York Harbor estuary and were a mainstay of the city’s economy, with more than half a billion harvested annually throughout the first half of the 19th century. By the late 1800s, wild oyster populations had been thoroughly decimated. More recently, water quality problems have compounded the harbor’s plight, but tremendous progress has been made since the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the water surrounding the city is once again capable of hosting a wide variety of marine life. However, there are almost no naturally occurring populations of oysters left in the harbor.  Restoration needs a jump start: men, women and young people from around the city must step in to help oysters regain their ecological niche and once again take their place as the harbor's natural filtration system. 

“New York Harbor was once one of the most bountiful and bio-diverse places on earth,” said Pete Malinowski, Billion Oyster Project director. “Oyster reefs and their accompanying salt marshes were the engines of that productivity. Restoring oysters can start a chain reaction that could begin to build back the ecosystem.”

“The Billion Oyster Project has the potential to transform the marine environment of an entire region and launch a new era of appreciation for these ecosystems,” said Murray. “We are committed to building on the success of this inaugural event and to being a part of this remarkable effort to revitalize an iconic estuary.”

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To learn more about the Billion Oyster Project and the Harbor School initiative, visit BillionOysterProject.org.