11 million new oysters in New York Harbor (but none to eat) | Local News

11 million new oysters in New York Harbor (but none to eat)

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New York Harbor restoration has taken another milestone as 2021 draws to a close: 11.2 million juvenile oysters have been added in the past six months to a section of the Hudson River off the coast of Lower Manhattan, where they help filter water and create habitat for other marine life.

The bivalves will not go to a serving dish: the waters are still too polluted to be freely eaten, after having absorbed centuries of waste, sewers and industrial waste. But the water quality in the region is improving steadily, and oysters – which were once so prevalent in the waters as a staple in New Yorkers’ diets – are playing a key role in this change. .

The city was once one of the world’s great oyster capitals, exporting millions across the country and around the world. They were sold in street stalls, saloons and barges. New Yorkers of all walks of life could enjoy them, whether raw, roasted, marinated, fried, or in chowders, sauces and stews.

In his book “The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell,” author Mark Kurlansky writes that the history of New York’s oysters is a history of the city itself. Years of overexploitation and environmental degradation made the waters so dirty that oysters couldn’t even survive for a while. Now, in addition to those introduced, some savages can be found deep in the piers of Manhattan’s West Side and in the Bronx.

It may be another 100 years before anyone can safely eat an oyster in the waters, said Carrie Roble, vice president of estuary and education at the River Project at the Hudson River Park Trust, a resort Marine Biology Monitoring Center on Pier 40, near West Houston Street.

But oysters are a symbol of resilience and a rare sign of hope amid disturbing news about New York’s waterways in an era of rapid climate change.

If they get big enough, oyster reefs can even play a role in dissipating wave energy, helping to protect city shores from storm surges and flooding during extreme weather conditions. .

“They are habitat builders,” Ms. Roble said.

The newly deployed oysters are attached to more than 200 subtidal habitats, including metal orbs, cages and mesh envelopes, in the water between piers 26 and 34, off TriBeCa.

This is the first large-scale habitat restoration in the Hudson River Park Estuary Sanctuary, an area where fresh river water and salt water from the Atlantic Ocean mix and create a nutrient-rich ecosystem for more than 85 species of fish.

Ms Roble noted that the estuary is a crucial incubator for regional waterways and that many types of fish migrate or spawn in the area. Striped bass caught in Connecticut or New Jersey likely spent time in the Hudson when they were young.

And more vibrant marine life is driving exponential growth. For example, large populations of menhaden, a small silvery fish, attract humpback whales to feed on them.

The $ 1.5 million project was designed by the Hudson River Park Trust, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and engineering firm Moffatt and Nichol, with funding from the state.

The “seeded” oysters came from the Billion Oyster Project, a non-profit organization on a mission to make its name a reality in New York Harbor by 2035. The group claims it has already restored 75 million oysters in the region since its founding in 2014.

“No one has really done this before,” said Kevin Quinn, senior vice president of design and construction for Hudson River Park, in an interview last month as workers prepared to lower more oyster houses in water. “It’s exciting. I hope we can do it again.

Installation of the underwater habitats began in July and was due to be completed on Friday. Together they create a reef-like system that acts as a corridor for fish and a home for more oysters, mussels and barnacles.

In addition to the millions of young oysters, known as spat, 600 adult oysters have also been settled. They came from a program put in place during the pandemic to help oyster farmers who have seen their business plummet due to restaurant closings.

“Usually we build the piers,” said John O’Neill, a supervisor from Reicon Group, the contractor who installed the oyster sets. “It’s an experience of environmental conservation. “

Riverkeeper, a nonprofit that has fought to restore the Hudson since the 1960s, also helped design the project.

“Oysters represent a key species in our estuaries with immense ecological value,” the group’s senior director of habitat restoration, George Jackman, said in a statement.

“In addition to reducing sewage overflows, adding oyster and other bivalve reefs is one of the best ways to restore the health and maintain the biodiversity of the Hudson River Estuary. “

River Project researchers will follow oysters and their effects on water. They run a small, free aquarium at Pier 40, designed expressly to educate the public about the area’s abundant marine life.

A very special oyster, named Big, lives under the pier. At 8.6 inches and 1.9 pounds, it was thought to be the largest oyster found in New York Harbor in a century when it was discovered in 2018. Big only increased slightly Since then, but she’s been doing well, River Project staff said after measuring and examining her on a recent tour.

A challenge for River Project educators is to bring home visitors who discover oysters they are not safe to eat. The city still discharges untreated sewage into waterways during periods of heavy rains, introducing dangerous bacteria.

And this adds to the legacy of industrial pollutants that were continuously released until the 1970s, including PCBs, from factories up the river. Oysters are incredibly productive filters – an adult can filter up to 50 gallons per day – but they cannot filter heavy metals and PCBs.

“There is still some way to go before we can eat the oysters,” Ms. Roble said.

But she said the underwater devices, which can easily be removed to be shown to visitors, help people understand the world below the water’s surface and feel invested in its protection.

“We want the community to really participate,” she said.

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