Just in the last decade, however, a number of organizations have initiated campaigns to bring oysters back to New York waters. Groups like the Billion Oyster Project, which aims to seed 1 billion oysters by the year 2050, hope that a restored oyster population will once again provide critical environmental services to the local ecosystem. First, as filter feeders, oysters clean water as they eat–as much as 50 gallons per adult oyster per day. Second, oysters are ecosystem architects, building complex reef structures that provide habitats for fish, birds, and other marine life. Third, and perhaps most important as sea levels rise and weather becomes ever more severe, oyster reefs provide natural defenses to protect shorelines from storm surges and erosion.
This panel proposes to provide a comprehensive look at the past, present, and potential future of oysters in New York Harbor. Historian Brett Palfreyman will examine how generations of New Yorkers have relied on the mollusks over the past centuries, from the earliest Lenape inhabitants of the area to the first European settlers to the industrialized harvesting operations of the 19th century. Biologist Michael McCann of the Nature Conservancy will discuss the key roles that oysters have played – and could play again – in the fragile ecosystem of the Hudson River estuary. Undergraduate researcher John Acquaviva will present the results of an experimental oyster restoration study conducted by Wagner College students in a marshy wetland on the southeast coast of Staten Island called Lemon Creek (Spoiler alert: Oysters can still thrive in New York Harbor!) And architect Pippa Brashear will describe how her urban design firm, SCAPE Studios, is currently integrating oyster reefs into the Living Breakwaters Project, an ongoing, $60 million effort to protect the coast of Staten Island in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.