Hello from New York City on a rainy June day. We have a whole new understanding of days like this after working with Billion Oyster Project on our oyster-themed charity capsule.
We learned that just 1/10th of an inch of rain per hour is enough to overwhelm our woefully-inadequate, 150 year old sewer system, causing something called 'Combined Sewage Overflow' -- in layman's terms, waste water (e.g. the stuff you flush down the toilet) is discharged directly into our rivers and harbor untreated.
We knew our beloved city was dirty, but not that dirty.
Cue NYC's unlikely hero: oysters. The world's sexiest bivalve is a natural water filter. In fact, an adult oyster can filter 30 gallons of water per day.
Before New York City was known as the 'Big Apple,' it was the 'Big Oyster,' home to the largest oyster population in the United States. Oyster vendors dotted street corners like the dirty water hot dog stands you see today. Sadly, this population of oysters is now functionally extinct in the Harbor due to over-harvesting, dredging, and pollution.
Billion Oyster Project aims to restore the oyster reefs that covered more than 220,000 acres of the Hudson River. The oyster's reputation as an "ecosystem engineer,” along with the history of New York Harbor as an oyster haven drives the organization to restore the harbor to its former ecological glory. The reefs filter water, provide a habitat for other marine species, and reduce wave energy to protect against storm surge.
And it's working. Believe it or not, one reef site in Williamsburg is now home to a thriving colony of seahorses.
Founded in 2014 as a project by the Harbor School on Governor’s Island, Billion Oyster Project is a collaborative effort between educators, scientists, students, and community members with a mission to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor by 2035. This ambitious undertaking involves a multifaceted approach that combines education, reef construction, and monitoring.
To support oyster growth and create a sustainable habitat, the project constructs artificial reefs using discarded oyster shells. These structures provide a substrate for oyster larvae (called 'spat') to attach and grow, creating new oyster populations in areas where they had disappeared. The reefs also enhance biodiversity by attracting various marine species and improving water quality through the oysters' natural filtration process.
The Billion Oyster Project is a remarkable testament to the power of collective action and community engagement in ecological restoration.
They have 18 active restoration sites across NYC, have collected 2+ million pounds of recycled shell, and are setting 50 million oysters per season into NYC's local waterways.
The Tombolo team visited Billion Oyster Project's Governor's Island HQ in advance of the collaboration (thank you, Jessi, for being such a wonderful tour guide!).
We toured the Harbor School (and wished we could have attended as students), trudged around gargantuan piles of donated shells (no pearls found sadly), and learned about the process of building a new reef site (labor intensive!).
For the capsule's launch month of June, Tombolo donated 100% of proceeds from this capsule to Billion Oyster Project, raising over $60k to support the reintroduction of oysters to New York Harbor.
From July onwards, 15% of all proceeds from this capsule will continue to support Billion Oyster Project's efforts.
Want to get your hands dirty and volunteer? Sign up!