Brigid McKenna

ONLY IN NEW YORK (2016 OCEAN Environmental Innovation Award)

Oysters are far more than just tasty mollusks. Oysters play important roles in ecosystems: acting as bio-filters; buffering shores from storm surges; and providing food and habitat for other marine organisms. In order for oysters to proliferate and thrive a few environmental factors have t o be in order: water variables (temperature, salinity, a cidity), food, and substrate. As reported in OCEAN 30, s ome oyster fisheries are having issues dealing with massive d ie offs due to increased ocean acidification. The t emperature and acidity problems have been fixed by r aising fragile oyster spat in tanks before returning them to t he ocean. But in places where these aren’t issues yet, like i n New York City waters, the only thing that currently n eeds to be addressed is planting oyster beds to areas that l ack proper substrate. How did they resolve this? By r ecycling old toilet bowls. I n this case the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” is fitting. The city plans to recycle pieces of porcelain from 5,000 public school toilets (free from a citywide water conservation program) to facilitate the breeding of upwards of 50,000 oysters in Jamaica Bay. Jamaica Bay is 31-square-mile part of New York Harbor south of Long Island and in proximity to the JFK airport. Historically oysters were a staple in this watershed and were so prolific that they were used as sustenance and currency (wampum) to Native Americans of the region. It has even been said that half of the world’s oysters were harvested in New York Harbor at one point. Oysters were abundant in this lower Hudson estuary until the 1927, when unfortunately overharvesting, anthropogenic pollution, and dredging caused the fishery to be functionally extinct.

The Billion Oyster Project, in conjunction with the City of New York’s Department of Environment Protection, devised the restoration plan after pilot studies demonstrated that oysters could survive and reproduce in this area again. It is the single largest installation of breeding oysters and the hope is to contribute to a productive New York Harbor. The project is a two-for-one benefit for the local environment. One it reduces waste by repurposing these broken porcelain receptacles and two the success of the oysters will improve water quality (each oyster can filter up to 40 gallons of water per day), provide habitat for other marine life, and protect the coast from storm surges by absorbing the shock from waves.

They will not be farmed for food sale and the program began depositing floating cages in September 2016. The water quality and evidence of spat will be monitored over the next two years and the hope is that New York City will have a self-sustaining oyster population once again and be a successful restoration to be replicated in other places.

More information in the links below:, Bay-NYC-Porcelin-NY--392472011.html, new-york-citys-newest-oyster-bed-is-50000-mollusks-and-5000-old-public-school-toilets/


Thank you to OCEAN Researcher Brigid McKenna