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Background

By Susannah Black
February 3, 2016

BOP Backgrounder

Context

New York Harbor is a natural resource in recovery. Once teeming with life, during the 50 years prior to the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1971, the Harbor was toxic and nearly lifeless.  Notably, its vast network of oyster reefs, which in 1609 had stretched for 220,000 acres, were dead.  Icons of New York’s cultural and culinary history, oysters had also been the Harbor’s filtering system– and that system was wiped out.

Since 1971, water quality has gradually improved, and today, the Harbor is healthy enough to once again begin to support this keystone species.  But they need help.  And so in Spring, 2014, the New York Harbor Foundation, in partnership with the New York Harbor School and many other citizen groups and nonprofits, launched the Billion Oyster Project.  The BOP is a long-term, large-scale plan to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor over the next twenty years and in the process educate the young people of New York City about the ecology and economy of their local marine environment– an effort that will radically alter both the city’s waterscape and New Yorkers’ connection to their harbor.

Why a billion oysters?

Oysters are the keystone species and original ecosystem engineer of the New York Harbor Estuary. Oyster reefs once covered more than 220,000 acres of the estuary and hundreds of miles of shoreline. At this scale, trillions of individual oysters provided massive ecological benefit to the Harbor, including continuous water filtration, wave attenuation, and habitat for thousands of marine species. Oysters were also an abundant food source for the people of our region. After the arrival of Europeans, however, oyster reefs were severely overharvested and eventually destroyed by unchecked pollution and urbanization. Restoring one billion adult oysters to New York Harbor would amount to a small fraction of the original population, but would have significant and measurable positive impacts on our ecosystem.

 

BOP By the Numbers

Oysters restored: >16 million

Middle schools engaged: 50

High schools engaged: 4

Total NYC students engaged: >3000

Middle School students engaged: 875

Restaurants engaged: 32

Pounds of shell collected and recycled: 150,000

Number of shells this represents: Approx. 1 million

Reef area restored: >1.05 acres

Restoration station sites: 30

Restoration Stations deployed: 56

 

One billion oysters would filter the standing volume of New York Harbor once every three days.