One billion oysters to protect New York from storms and ruin

The terrace of Crave Fishbar It is a paradise in the Second Avenue in Manhattan, even when the cold is pressing. People go there for their oysters. Brian OwensHe, the owner, has another restaurant just across Central Park although it is temporarily closed due to the pandemic. Before the disruption by the health crisis, they served about 20,000 pieces a week. They pay between three and four dollars a unit. Of these, about 6,000 were served during the happy hour for a dollar.

The business strategy is as follows. If the customer comes in for a dozen bargain-priced oysters, they may also order a par of martinis With your friends or you can even all stay for dinner as soon as a table is released, so you end up ordering dishes from the menu at full price. It is a hook replicated by other places that serve the exquisite mollusk with a shell and that have easy access to the farms where they are grown.

This oyster economy is frowned upon by purists. Behind Crave Fishbar’s menu, however, is a fascinating story about New York’s past and future. Before the Big Apple was dominated by its skyscrapers and millions of tourists invaded it, the city was known for the oysters that filtered the hudson river waters touching the Atlantic. Biologists say that the estuary it contained half of those on the entire planet.

The New Yorkers’ craze for oysters lasted well into the 19th century. Then the portions of pizza and the bagel. More than a hundred years later, New York City is embarking on an ambitious project for the natural restoration of the entire estuary and turn oysters into a biological barrier in the face of floods due to climate change. On the initiative Billion Oyster Project several dozen restaurants serving the bivalve participate. Owens’ restaurant was the first in New York to partner with this eco-friendly program.

Raising oysters is a very laborious process and quality oysters are very difficult to produce, because they need constant attention. It takes between 18 months and four years for them to reach a sufficient size so that they can be marketed, as explained from Fishers Island Oyster Farm, one of the farms that serve restaurants in New York. The oysters that populate the Hudson Estuary, however, are not for eating. They act as engineers of the ecosystem. The idea is that this reef made up of a billion mollusks is capable of filtering all the water in New York Harbor in three days.

As those responsible for the project explain, an adult can purify 190 liters of water per day. This natural barrier in turn creates a habitat for other forms of marine life, while protecting the coastline. Restaurants, like the one in Owens, what they do is preserve the shells of the oysters that their customers consume and donate them to the New York Harbor School on Governors Island, a public education center focused on marine life studies and involved in the project. Students grow and hatch the hatchlings, which are then attached to the cleaned shells and placed in strategic locations along the New York waterfront.

Taxis driving through New York City

The Billion Oyster project is in turn associated with the group Linving Breakwater, which is creating artificial reefs along the coast of Staten Island. The others are placed in the structures to make them more robust and resistant to the effects of the swells that accompany large storms. like cyclone sandy. The initiative was recognized with the MacArthur Genius Award and is financed with funds from the Department of Urban Development, which includes a provision for the prevention of natural disasters.

Madeline Wachtel, one of those in charge of the project, explains that the initiative underway is much more than a name. It only took a hundred years, he recalls, to deplete the oysters that populated the elaborate ecosystem that makes up the New York Estuary. By 1906 there was not a single alive. A century later, in 2010, whales were seen again in its waters and at four the project was founded with the aim of reestablishing one billion oysters by 2035. They have already restored 45 million.

Peter Malinowski, the executive director of the project, is optimistic when he sees how the community is increasingly aware of the effects of climate change on their lives. However, he anticipates that the storms will hit New York with more frequency and violence. Oysters, therefore, are seen as part of a larger integrated solution to mitigate the blow of more intense storms. “By themselves,” he insists, “they will not protect Manhattan” from floodwaters.


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