New York Harbor Foundation, Inc.


$15,000 for 1 year

Awarded: March 1, 2014

Public and Policymaker Awareness of Climate Change

For its Billion Oyster Project.

About the Grantee

  • Young oysters are growing on this recycled oyster shell in New York Harbor as part of the Billion Oyster Project's habitat monitoring. (Courtesy of Peter Malinowski/BOP)

At the New York Harbor School, students from across the city are engaged in diving, ocean engineering, conducting marine biology research, operating vessels, practicing aquaculture, and more, all in addition to standard high school curriculum. From the sediment to the surface, the harbor becomes a working laboratory as students build toward the goal of restoring one billion oysters to the its waterways. To aid this work, the Fund has helped support the construction and restoration of a pilot oyster reef and science platform on the eastern side of New York’s Governors Island.

Oysters were the keystone species in the harbor for centuries, providing food for fish, birds, people, and other wildlife. Their reefs stabilized shorelines and prevented erosion, acting as a buffer against hurricanes and tropical storms. In the 1920s, overconsumption cut their population and dredging destroyed the reefs. Until the Clean Water Act of 1971, water quality in the harbor was too poor to allow for a comeback. But now more than acre of reef has been restored by the Billion Oyster Project and each adult oyster filters up to 50 gallons of water every day. These restored oyster beds help capture industrial pollutants in the harbor, rendering them inedible for humans, and continue to improve the water quality.

The process for restoring reefs takes perseverance, experimentation, and help from many participants in the city. Aquaculture students may be able to test various water quality, salinity, and pH levels in cultivation tanks on Governors Island, but without recycled oyster shells, donated from more than a dozen local seafood restaurants around the city, oyster larvae struggle to find a foothold and grow. Away from Harbor School’s campus, over 7,500 students explore math and science through the lens of the harbor and oysters. Each middle school class adopts a restoring station and monitors the habitat conditions and health of 300-500 oysters during a monthly fieldtrip. This way, the Billion Oyster Project strengthens New York's harbor against the next major storm surge, while also preparing the city's students for college and some of the estimated 300,000 career opportunties in and around the harbor.