The Nature Conservancy's dedication to marine protection in New York is longstanding. The Conservancy launched its first U.S. marine project in New York off the shores of Long Island and currently operates 100 marine projects worldwide. Billion Oyster Project's principal objective is to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor. To date, the organization has grown over 16 million oysters, collected and recycled 150,000 lbs of shell and restored 1.05 acres in the harbor. Together, the organizations will work to improve the health of New York Harbor by studying oyster reefs and monitoring water quality.
The Conservancy will tap into its network of scientists and oyster restoration experts to track and study the results of the oyster restoration work already being done in the harbor. For example, we may monitor oyster growth and reproduction, water quality or study how many juvenile fish are using reefs as habitat. The findings will help scientists learn how oyster restoration efforts like this one can thrive in the long term.
The results of this project could benefit other coastal cities. This scientific initiative will not only take steps toward restoring the health of New York Harbor but will also provide a greater understanding of shellfish restoration in urban settings. Our findings will be shared with experts in coastal cities like Miami, Boston and Houston.
- Globally, a staggering 85 percent of oyster reefs have been lost in the last 200 years. Factors including pollution, disease, overharvesting, drought and habitat loss have made oyster reefs the single most imperiled marine habitat on the planet. In fact, oyster reefs once covered more than 220,000 acres of the Hudson River estuary, but oysters are now functionally extinct in the New York Harbor.
- Oysters are incredible water filters. One adult oyster can filter around 50 gallons of water a day; a healthy one-acre reef filters approximately 24 million gallons of water daily. Beyond filtering water, oysters create habitat for other animals, which is necessary to a robust harbor ecosystem.
- Finally, oyster reefs in New York Harbor could help protect the city from severe weather events. Oyster reefs serve as natural buffers against rising tides and hurricanes by forming breakwaters that protect shorelines and wetlands from erosion. Those breakwaters also keep critical habitat for plants and animals intact, helping to ensure that both people and nature can thrive.
a learning opportunity
Billion Oyster Project has engaged more than 3 thousand school children and 54 New York City schools through restoration based STEM education programs, and likewise, the Conservancy works to engage the next generation of conservation leaders through its youth programs. This partnership will also create new opportunities for students from the New York Harbor School.