Oyster Restoration in New York City and New Jersey – A Multimedia Guide

In this post, you will find a multimedia guide to oyster restoration projects in the estuaries of New York City and New Jersey. Please email your comments and feedback to Doug Fox (nyctransported [at] gmail [.] com) or post a comment below.

Table of Contents

- Introduction
- Oyster Restoration Projects in New York Harbor
- NY/NJ Baykeeper Required to Remove Oyster Beds
- Videos
- Radio Programs
- Presentations and Slideshows
- Oyster Art Exhibits and Projects
- Newspaper Articles, Newsletters and Blogs
- Oyster and Oyster Reef Background


Oyster Restoration on Soundview Reef on Bronx River

Oyster Restoration on Soundview Reef in the Bronx River - Oyster Restoration Research Project

Oysters used to be an abundant and edible resource throughout the New York harbor. Unfortunately, by the early 20th Century overfishing, disease and pollution essentially wiped out the local oyster populations.

With dramatic improvements in water quality, however, it has become possible to launch restoration projects to determine the practicality of reintroducing and sustaining oysters and oyster reefs. A number of organizations have been conducting experiments with oyster gardening, pilot reef construction and scientific research since the 1990s. Explore the projects of NY/NJ Baykeeper to learn about their efforts to restore oyster beds.

And, most recently, the following organizations have been partnering in an oyster restoration feasibility study:

- Bronx River Alliance
- Hudson River Foundation
- New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Natural Resources Group
- New York/New Jersey Baykeeper
- New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program
- Rocking the Boat
- The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – New York District

This study consists of the construction of six experimental oyster reefs throughout the New York harbor and up the estuary to Hastings, New York. The reefs are approximately fifteen feet by thirty feet and are intended to replicate natural reefs as much as possible. (In the following image, Hastings, NY, which is farther north, is not included):

Oyster Reef Locations in New York City

Oyster Reef Locations in New York City - Oyster Restoration Feasibility Study

Overall, these restoration projects are especially worthwhile because “oyster reefs provide three major ecosystem services: 1) habitat for other species, 2) augmented fish production, and 3) water quality improvements.” (Source: Hudson River Foundation)

Oyster Restoration Projects in New York Harbor

Oyster Restoration Feasibility Study – Summary (2010)
Objectives, background and description of effort to conduct research on the feasibility of restoring and sustaining oysters and oyster reefs in the NY/NJ harbor. The primary benefit is considered to be the value of oyster reefs to the ecosystem and not oysters as a food source. “Our oyster restoration efforts are expected to result in enhanced ecological services, primarily through the addition of unique three-dimensional habitats for fish and invertebrates. Oyster reefs may also contribute other ecological benefits such as water filtration, nutrient cycling, and shoreline stabilization.” Today and into the future, oysters from the NY/NJ harbor cannot be eaten due to health concerns and the possible spread of disease.

Hudson-Raritan Estuary Comprehensive Restoration Plan (March 2009)
Volume 1, Volume 2 and Executive Summary

Hudson Raritan Estuary Comprehensive Restoration PlanThe Comprehensive Restoration Plan (CRP) is a master plan that represents a consensus vision of how to restore the ecosystem of the NY/NJ estuary. Regarding oysters, the CRP sets a “short-term objective of creating 500 acres of self-sustaining and naturally expanding oyster reef habitat…across 10 to 20 sites by 2015. By 2050, the objective is to have 5,000 acres of established oyster reef habitat.”

More information about the CRP is available on the websites for the US Army Corps of Engineers, The Waters We Share and NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program.

Comprehensive Oyster Restoration Research Project Gets Underway in NY Harbor (October 6, 2010)
Off the eastern shore of Governors Island, the first stage of a multi-year project is launched to determine if oysters can once again flourish in the waters of NY harbor.

A Living Oyster Reef Returns to the Waters at the Mouth of the Bronx River (October, 28, 2010)
In the shallow waters off of Soundview Park at the southern tip of the Bronx River, an oyster reef of 50,000 oysters was introduced.

Jamaica Bay Watershed Protection Plan Update 2010 (October 1, 2010)
Page sixteen of this report covers oyster reintroduction projects in Jamaica Bay at Dubos Point, Queens and Gerritsen Creek, Brooklyn. “The oyster study will evaluate whether climatic and environmental conditions within the bay are suitable for oyster growth and reproduction. [And will] measure how effective these bivalves are at filtering various pollutants affecting the bay such as nitrogen, other nutrients, and particulate organic matter.” Also read NYC Department of Environmental Protection press release about the release of this watershed plan, which states that the goal is to restore 10,000 oysters to Jamaica Bay. (I made two bike and boat trips around Jamaica Bay last year. You can view my photos on my post: Bike and Boat Tour of Jamaica Bay.)

NY/NJ Baykeeper Required to Remove Oyster Beds

N.J. Orders Nonprofit Group to Remove Experimental Oyster Beds from Contaminated Waters (July 15, 2010 – NJ.com)
The New Jersey State Department of Environmental Protection requires that NY/NJ Baykeeper remove its experimental oyster beds in Keyport Harbor and the Navesink River in New Jersey.

NJDEP Bullies NY/NJ Baykeeper to Shut Down Largest In-water Oyster Research Project in NY/NJ Estuary: NJDEP Fails to Offer Good Faith Alternative Location for Oyster Project and Plan to Protect NJ Waters (August 10, 2010)
In this press release, NY/NJ Baykeeper explains the negative economic and scientific impact of closing its oyster research projects.

Removal of Oysters Helps Safeguard Public Health and New Jersey’s Shellfish Industry (August 9, 2010)
In this press release, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection says that NY/NJ Baykeeper has “complied with the state’s ban on research-related gardening of commercially viable oysters in contaminated waters by removing its oysters from New York Harbor.”


Rocking the Boat: Oyster Restoration in the Bronx River
A former student and current Program Assistant with Bronx-based Rocking the Boat, a youth development program that empowers high school aged students through building wooden boats and using them to restore the Bronx River, discuses their involvement in an oyster restoration program in this YouTube video and this one:

Research Project Looks To Restore Oyster Reefs To Harbor (October 28, 2010 – NY1)
Story about the partnership among The New York City Parks Department, the Hudson River Foundation, the Bronx River Alliance and the Army Corps of Engineers to plant 50,000 oysters in the Bronx River. Watch NY1 video.

Bronx River Restoration
This video focuses on the clean-up of the Bronx River and the restoration of its ecosystems by studying historical maps and computer simulations. There is a segment, about mid-way through, that covers a 2006 project to build new habitat structures for existing oysters. The narrator is Eric W. Sanderson, senior conservation ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society. He is the author of “Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City.” You can learn more about Sanderson’s mapping project. And you can view my post and pictures of my bike ride along the the restored Bronx River:

Students Dive at Chance to Restore Oyster Population (July 7, 2010 – NY1)
Profile of student from New York Harbor School who is participating in an oyster restoration effort. And interview with Fabian Cousteau (grandson of Jacques Cousteau) who is supporting this oyster planting initiative. According to the New York Times, Cousteau’s recently launched non-profit Plant a Fish intends to plant one billion oysters in the Hudson and East Rivers over the next few years. Watch NY1 video.

Oysters Poised for a Rebound in NY Harbor (October 10, 2010 – NBC New York)
In this article and video (video accessible at bottom of article), students from New York Harbor School and Army Corps of Engineers participate in oyster restoration project off of Governors Island. Read NBC story and watch video.

A FLUPSY in Action
Pete Malinowski of the New York Harbor School on Governors Island demonstrates the workings of a FLUPSY (FLoating UPweller SYstem) and eco-docks. A FLUPSY is a controlled, nutrient-rich environment for infant shellfish such as oyster spat. The Governors Island website includes a description and diagram about how a FLUPSY operates. And you can read this article and this article to learn more about the FLUPSY. Watch FLUPSY video.

Radio Programs

Oyster Restoration in New York Harbor (March 19, 2009 -The Leonard Lopate Show)
Leonard Lopate interviews Dr. Beth Ravit of the Department of Environmental Science at Rutgers University and by J.T. Boehm, Aquatic Projects Manager for The River Project about the history of oysters in the New York estuaries and their depletion due to overfishing, pollution and dredging. Lopate’s guests also discuss early oyster restoration projects and their importance for New York’s estuaries.

Presentations and Slideshows

Oyster Restoration Project Presentation (Fall 2010 – New York Harbor School Class Project)

Oyster Restoration Research Project on Flickr (December 2010)

Oysters in the Hudson River

Oysters in the Hudson River - Oyster Restoration Research Project

Oyster Art Exhibits and Projects

Rising Currents Exhibit at Museum of Modern Art (March 24–October 11, 2010)
View exhibit information: here and here.

For last year’s Rising Currents exhibit, MoMA and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center joined forces to address the challenges of sea-level rising for New York City. This exhibit featured the designs and architectural visions of five interdisciplinary art teams who showcased their approaches to protecting different sections of the New York City harbor from expected higher sea levels and storm surges.

Oyster-Tecture at Rising Currents Exhibit at MoMA - ArchDaily

Oyster-Tecture at Rising Currents Exhibit at MoMA - ArchDaily

Kate Orff of landscape architecture and design firm SCAPE was the team leader addressing the challenges of protecting the geographic zone consisting of Gowanus Canal, Governors Island, Red Hook and Buttermilk Channel. Her team’s project Oyster-Tecture envisions growing oyster reefs that create a new ecosystem, weaken storm surges and reduce seawater levels, and generate millions of gallons of cleaner water through the oyster’s bio-filtration capabilities. Oyster-Tecture consists of an armature of marine piles connected to a mesh of fuzzy rope constructed in the Bay Ridge Flats in the Buttermilk Channel between Governors Island and Red Hook. Oyster spat (young oysters) can then grab onto this web of fine-grained rope and the colony can then grow and expand. Watch video interview with Kate Orff. Also watch video from ABC News about the Rising Currents exhibit. (The section of this ABC video about the Oyster-Tecture project starts about one-third of the way through).

The New School Oyster Midden (2009)
Environmental artist Mara G. Haseltine

For a course she taught at the New School “Oyster Gardens NYC,” environmental artist Mara G. Haseltine worked with students to create The New School Oyster Midden. For this public art project, students gathered discarded shells from the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station and transformed them into creative middens (piles of discarded shells). See photos from The New School Oyster Middens here and here.

Newspaper Articles, Newsletters and Blogs

The Eastern Oyster and Restoration Efforts in NY – NJ Estuary (Summer 2010)
Tidal Exchange Newsletter – New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program

Oyster Reefs Created Off Ridge, Governors Island (December 6, 2010)
Brooklyn Eagle

At the New York Harbor School, Growing Oysters for Credit (June 29, 2010)
New York Times

The Governors Island Blog has a number of posts about the oyster restoration projects on its Island

Environmentalists Hope Third Oyster Try Worth the Wade in Bronx River (October 29, 2010)
NY Daily News

Can the City — and the Oyster — Save Jamaica Bay? (May 2010)
Gotham Gazette

Decimated by Years of Pollution, Oysters Once Again Find Home in Jamaica Bay (October 6, 2010)
NY Daily News

Oyster and Oyster Reef Background

Oyster Biology & Ecology
South Carolina Oyster Restoration and Enhancement

About the Oyster
NY/NJ BayKeeper

Oyster, Oyster Restoration and Eastern Oyster

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (Preview) by Mark Kurlansky
Google Books

About Doug Fox

Doug Fox is a New York City tour guide, urban explorer and waterfront enthusiast. Email Doug at: nyctransported [at] gmail [.] com