HarborLAB periodically delivers cages of oysters to schools and community groups along the East River from the Billion Oyster Project’s headquarters at The Harbor School on Governors Island. When we return from camping overnight on Governors Island for City of Water Day, we’ll bring new oyster seeds to Hunters Point Parks Conservancy and local schools, as well as growing that at our own launch site on the Newtown Crreek!
Oysters once lined the bed of our harbor and were considered the finest in the world to eat. They were famed for growing “as large as dinner plates” too. But middens (piles of shells) reveal that even before Europeans arrived, oysters were smaller because the growing regional population of First Nations were harvesting them younger to keep up with demand. That problem greatly accelerated. Then raw sewage and industrial pollution rendered oysters unsafe to eat, while toxins and dredging eradicated them.
Today the Billion Oyster Project seeks to restore oysters to our urban habitat, though they remain unsafe for people to eat. Why? Because they support other wildlife and might perform environmental services like filtering water and weakening storm waves because rough seabeds dissipate energy from below. But challenges lie ahead. Even as sewer system improvements and regulation of toxins remove pollution from the harbor, global CO2 increases in the atmosphere get absorbed by the ocean where the chemical gets converted to carbonic acid. That makes it harder for shellfish like oysters to pull together the calcium and magnesium they need to grow. The Billion Oyster Project collects monthly oyster growth data from participants to study how the species is faring in varying local conditions today.