Abillion oysters are being seeded in New York’s harbour in a bid to clean up its notoriously dirty water.
An organisation called – well, The Billion Oyster Project (BOP) – is working with hundreds of partners, schools and volunteers to build new oyster reefs in the harbour. The project – launched four years ago – has so far ‘deployed’ 28 million oysters and they are already having an impact.
“The water,” says Katie Mosher, BOP’S restoration manager, “has never been better in 150 years. We’ve definitely noticed an improvement when putting oysters on the bottom. There’s more fish, more crabs. It happens right away.”
Oysters, she adds, are ecosystem engineers which create a 3D reef habitat. “It’s full of different shapes and sizes of oysters that other species love to hunt in and live in and to search for prey. Oysters filter and clean the water when they breathe, making it clearer. This enables light to penetrate more easily to the bottom and allows more plants to grow on the seabed.”
The molluscs recycle nutrients and nitrogen, and can even mitigate the energy of large waves, reducing flooding and preventing erosion during storms or hurricanes.
New York once supported a flourishing oyster population – but it was driven to near extinction in the early 1900s, a victim of overfishing, pollution and sewage. Marine life slowly returned following the introduction of the 1972 Clean Water Act which outlawed the dumping of untreated wastewater and garbage.