The bottom of the Harbor was once covered with oyster reefs. Due to overfishing and pollution at the turn of the century, the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) was virtually eradicated from the harbor. Today, water quality in New York Harbor has improved greatly, and oysters have begun to reappear after an absence of more than 100 years, but only in some places, and in low numbers. Functioning oyster reefs characterize the ecosystems where they exist; they support over 200 species of plants and animals, and filter particles out of large volumes of water. (A single oyster can filter three liters of water an hour.)
The River Project has studied wild and captive oysters at Pier 26 since 1998, and has begun to develop plans for creation of a small oyster reef in Tribeca. Growth studies show that small populations of wild oysters do live in the lower Hudson Estuary and that spat recruitment in the area of the proposed reef is present. Several years of oyster growth rate data on captive oysters suggest that oyster growth increases slightly at the sub-surface levels (below mean low tide). In the high turbidity environment of the lower Hudson, it appears that oysters grow more quickly in the upper photic zone, rather than at lower depths.
In addition, The River Project has a growing oyster outreach component in partnership with NY/NJ Baykeeper, the New York Harbor School, and the Harbor Estuary Stewardship Program. This work allows oyster gardeners to learn about local ecology while they participate in hands on restoration and promote a broader community support for improving the environmental health of the harbor. This program currently involves hundreds of oyster gardeners from schools and community organizations around New York City. For more information see Oyster Gardening.
To download an abstract of current oyster research being conducted in our wetlab facility click here.
To see the short video, "Oysters - Not Just for Eating" featuring The River Project on NPR's Science Friday click here.