Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Slow But Steady Return of the Half Shell

I come bearing news of the oyster. Once plentiful in the waters around New York City, the oyster fell victim to overfishing, pollution, and sewage as the city grew and all but disappeared. This modest shellfish is capable of filtering all the water in the Harbor over the course of a few days, and their beds provide homes to fish. They're crucial to marine ecosystems. It's a win-win situation—not to mention a tasty one—when oysters are present. For a long time, they weren't—the waters around New York City were simply too poisonous. But in recent years, thanks in part to work done by The River Project, the path has been opened for the oyster's return. 

There are several oyster beds in and around NY Harbor, but the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School has cultivated a colony of 500,000 oysters just off the coast of Governor's Island. It is the largest colony to survive in these waters in a century, and their hardiness bodes well for the future of New York's waterways. This blog emphasizes the connections we have with our world both digitally and physically, and the work by the Harbor School helps make the connection to our environment very real to students, who participation in a matriculation rite that requires them to eat a farmed oyster.

The school includes a fin-fish and shellfish production lab, a marine-tech wood shop, and there are plans for an organic garden and an aquaponic freshwater system for farming tilapia, which students will hopefully have for lunch. In line with the growing movement supporting local foods, eating fish and vegetables they've raised will hopefully create an awareness of the environment in these kids that will last a lifetime. In 2007, a dive in nearby Sheepshead Bay revealed shopping carts, tires and an old bicycle frame with barnacles growing on it still resting on the bottom—a stark reminder that out of sight is not out of mind. As an aside, divers received shots for Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Typhoid before going into the water! No such protection can be provided for the oysters, but they seem to be doing okay without it.

Look for more news on New York's oysters in the coming months here on AiP.

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