11 Million Oysters Are Cleaning Up New York's Hudson River

Mar 04, 2022by Olivia - F&F

These 11 million oysters have been deployed to clean up the murky, polluted waters of New York’s Hudson River. Thanks to the Billion Oyster Project, New York Harbor could be home to one billion oysters by 2035.

Oysters Hudson RiverOysters Hudson River

Photograph: Rosie Cohe / Hudson Valley Magazine

New York Harbor Could Be Home To 1 Billion Oysters By 2035

In the past six months, more than 11 million oysters have taken up residence in New York’s Hudson River. It’s all part of a $1.5 million project designed by the Hudson River Park Trust and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, along with Billion Oyster Project — a nonprofit.

So, why oysters? Well, oysters have an incredible ability to filter water — no matter how dirty and polluted it is. Up until the 1970s, the Hudson River was a dumping ground for chemicals, which can trigger serious health problems. 

That’s why health officials have strongly advised people to avoid eating fish from the Hudson River. It’s hoped that the millions of water-filtering oysters will potentially bring life back to the murky waters!

Oysters Filtering WaterOysters Filtering Water

Photograph: University Of Chicago Marine Biological Laboratory

Oysters Can Filter 150 Litres Of Water In One Day!

An individual oyster has the ability to filter 150 litres of water a day, which is enough to fill a bathtub every two days! Oysters improve sea water by filtering out pollutants, algae, nutrients and sediment. This is why boosting oyster populations could be the key to cleaning up New York’s polluted waters.

"Oysters are amazing animals. Not only are they great at filter-feeding, so they’re improving water quality, but they like to reef and create habitat as they pile on top of each other," said Carrie Roble, from Hudson River Park.

Oysters aren't just expert water-filters. Oyster reefs “actually slow down storm surge and wave action," said Roble, which could protect New York from the impact of storms and flooding.

Oysters New York HarbourOysters New York Harbour

Photograph: Michelle Young / Untapped Cities

New York Harbor Was Once Filled With Oyster Reefs

New York used to be one of the biggest exporters of oysters in the world, and up until the 1920s, oysters were bountiful and enjoyed by residents of all social classes. But then, after New York’s waters were subjected to many years of raw sewage, industrial pollution, and large-scale dredging, oyster habitats declined and the industry disappeared completely.

It’s estimated that New York Harbor was once home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs. "Our waterways are a huge part of how this city functions and it's probably one of the reasons New York City is here," Roble said.

Restoring New Yorks’ waterways will take many years, but it’s hoped that the millions of oysters being deployed will help to purify the waters and encourage marine life to thrive.

Billion Oyster Project KidsBillion Oyster Project Kids

Photograph: Ben Von Wong / Simons Foundation

Billion Oyster Project Has Installed 14 Oyster Reef Sites In NYC

The rich history of oysters in New York inspired Murray Fisher and Pete Malinowski to create the Billion Oyster Project. In 2014, the duo envisaged a clean, healthy New York Harbor filled with biodiversity. The city-wide initiative has attracted more than 10,000 volunteers, and more than 6,000 students across 100 schools in NYC have learnt about the movement.

So far, Billion Oyster Project has installed 14 oyster reef sites across NYC, collected 1.5 million pounds of oyster shells to distribute back into the waterways, and even discovered oysters reproducing naturally in New York Harbor! “Billion Oyster Project has grown from the belief that if we are to continue living, working, teaching, and learning on this planet, we must change how humans interact with nature,” said Pete.

Did you know that oysters had such incredible water-filtration abilities? We love that the Billion Oyster Project has found a natural solution to purify New York Harbor’s polluted waters. Boosting the area’s oyster population to one billion by 2035 will not only help marine life to thrive, it will also boost New York’s resilience to storm surges and flooding. It’s a win-win all round!

Check out the Billion Oyster Project for more information.

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