Jamaica Bay used to be blanketed with oysters. This was long before all the dredging, pollution, and erosion caused them to become functionally extinct.
Oysters are an essential tool in establishing a healthy and diverse marine ecosystem. They naturally filter algae out of the water, which allows for more sunlight. More sunlight leads to more sea grass, which provides fish and crabs with places to hide from predators.
All in all, oysters are an excellent way to naturally enhance any marine ecosystem.
The Billion Oyster Project, in partnership with Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), installed oyster beds, about 50,000 oysters in total, into Jamaica Bay last month. It is the largest installation of breeding oysters in the city.
“Installing oysters in Jamaica Bay will bring long-lasting ecological, environmental and biological effects to our waterfront,” said Council Member Costa Constantinides, Chair of the Committee on Environmental Protection. “As a city surrounded by water, we must make sure we take care of our greatest resource. The 50,000 oysters will filter pollutants, help prevent erosion, and protect our wetlands.”
Now that the oysters are in the bay, the quality of the water is being monitored for improvements in dissolved oxygen, nitrogen removal, and water clarity. Another indication that the oysters are doing a good job is the addition of new oysters.
The project was funded by a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Interior, which is administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). The DEP also contributed $375,000 to the project.
“This innovative project will buffer New York from future storms; it will help clean up the water in the bay, and it will create wildlife habitat,” said NFWF’s Northeastern Director Amanda Bassow. “That’s a tremendous win, and exactly the kind of resilience solutions the Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Program hoped to inspire.”
A key part of the project was the utilization of porcelain taken from nearly 5,000 inefficient toilets that were recycled from the citywide water conservation program. The porcelain provides a base for the smaller oysters to stay as they reach reproductive maturity.
It is anticipated that the oysters will reproduce and the fertilized eggs will grow as free-floating larvae in the water column until the young oysters attach themselves to the shells of the parent oysters. The water and the oysters will be monitored for the next two years with the hope that the oysters will become self-sustaining and recruit new beds throughout the coast to make the water, simply, better.