Once In Abundance, Oysters Are Nearly Extinct In The Area

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An abundance of oysters lured settlers to New York centuries ago, but now, they are nearly gone from area waters.

As CBS 2’s Vanessa Murdock reported, the Oyster Research Restoration Project is working to change the fate of oysters in New York Harbor.

A barge at the intersection of the Bronx River and the East River carries unlikely cargo – clam shells, and a whole lot of them.

“Today, we’re putting these shells into the river in front of Soundview Park in the Bronx,” said Jim Lodge of the Hudson River Foundation.

The largest oyster restoration ever attempted in New York Harbor is underway, and it is a project years in the making.

“To see it come this far is really, really exciting,” said Chrissy Word, director of public programs for the group Rocking the Boat.

Tons of clam shells washed into the river will create a one-acre oyster reef.

For some reason that scientists are not sure of, the mouth of the Bronx River has an unusual amount of natural oyster larvae. They were hoping the larvae will attach the reef.

The reef will also be seeded with half a million oysters grown by students at the New York Harbor School.

“Knowing that I’m giving back and making the harbor a better place – it really excites me,” said Alyssa Giacinto, a sophomore at the school.

A few centuries back, oysters populated the harbor by the billions. But over-harvesting was the first hit the oysters took, and following the industrial revolution, many succumbed to pollution.

Now, oysters are nearly extinct in New York waterways, but the clam shells offer hope for the future. The hope is that it will serve as a place for oysters to attach, grow and benefit New Yorkers.

The goal is not to try to cultivate oysters for New Yorkers to eat. The oysters are being cultivated for their environmental benefit, in that they filter out the water and play an important role in the waterway ecosystem.

One oyster can filter 50 gallons of water a day, and so water quality may improve.

“We also think it can help create a more resilient shore in the long run,” said Matt Larson, director of wetlands restoration for the New York City Parks Department.

The oyster reef also can absorb some storm energy. But most importantly, oyster reef restoration means the return of a nearly-extinct habitat to the harbor.

The one-acre reef is part of a comprehensive restoration plan. The ultimate goal is 20 acres by 2020.

More than 30 organizations are involved in the effort.

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