Oyster restoration on the half shell

Oyster restoration on the half shell

New York-area restaurants turn trash into tool for saving the harbor

By the early 20th Century, oysters were functionally extinct in the New York Harbor. Overharvesting and water pollution were to blame.

Now, however, there is hope for the New York oyster.

The Billion Oyster Project, or BOP, has the goal of not only restoring the oyster ecosystem within the harbor, it is also diverting used oyster shells from landfills.

The project is collecting oyster shells from restaurants across the New York City area and turning those shells into “restoration gold.”

More than 50 restaurants in the region contribute their oyster shells to the project. One reclaimed shell can help restore up to 20 new live oysters.

Used shells are picked up and delivered to the NRG Arthur Kill Generating Station on Staten Island, where they are cured for a year. When ready, they are seeded with oyster larvae produced at the Harbor School Oyster Hatchery.

First the seeded shells spend time at the Harbor School nurseries or restoration stations to start growth. Then they are transferred to reef restoration sites where they continue growing, reproducing, and hopefully eventually become self-sustaining populations.

It’s an educational program as well, involving middle school students across the city. So far, some 16 million oysters have been restored.

And, because oysters are natural water filters, what’s good for oysters is good for the harbor. A single live oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day. The reefs also provide food and a habitat for other marine species, and oyster reefs act as breakwaters to protect the shore from extreme weather.

Want to turn your trash into a tool for a cleaner harbor? Contact [email protected].

Contact Lisa at [email protected] 

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

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