The Billion Oyster Project, a non-profit in New York, is on a mission to strengthen and repair New York’s notoriously dirty waterways by introducing 1 billion live oysters back into the ecosystem by 2035. Oysters grow well on the shells of previous generations, so in order to restore the historic bivalves to local waters, the group builds artificial reefs made of discarded shells from the restaurant industry. New York city’s local restaurants divert shells from their waste stream and donate them to the project.
The oysters were a part of the natural ecosystem until the early 20th century when over-fishing reduced their numbers and pollution made them inedible. Due to the fact that they are filter feeders (they filter the water in order to derive nutrition), they are ideal to clean the waters they live in. Not only do they get nutrients from the water, they also capture and store contaminants that may be present in it. In the Hudson river and other areas near New York, this is a big issue. Human activity on land and the practice of using open water like the Hudson and New York Harbor as an out-of-sight-out-of-mind dumping spot, made the area so polluted you could not even safely bathe in it. But an adult oyster can filter 50 gallons of water per day. Multiplied by a billion oysters, the creatures will be able to clean the entirety of New York Harbor in only 72 hours. Since they reach maturity in about a year, this plan actually has a lot of merit as a way to clean a large amount of water in a relatively short period of time for a relatively inexpensive price tag.
The fun doesn’t stop there though. Because the creatures live on reefs built on the shells of previous generations, they provide a natural way of strengthening the coastlines where they exist. Similar to mangroves in warmer climates, these creatures have evolved to form the perfect breakwater in tidal areas, providing increased resilience to the large storms that are increasing in frequency and intensity. The reefs also provide habitat for other creatures and soon become an ecosystem unto themselves, further increasing their ecological value.
But wait there’s more! The Oysters themselves are carbon sinks. Their shells become a permanent form of carbon sequestration. Oyster reefs not only provide protection from rising sea levels, they also help reduce the stuff that’s causing climate change in the first place, and they do so permanently!
So eat local oysters if you can get them. The farmed oysters suitable for human consumption are a good source of carbon sequestration that is made better if they don’t have to transported long distances. If you are dining in NYC, the shells may just end up where back they belong, reducing carbon, preventing storm surge and cleaning the water.
Who knows? You might even find a pearl someday.
In other top happy eco news stories, low-carbon hydrogen is now understood to become a part of a larger energy transition effort. Green hydrogen, as it is called, uses renewable energy as power in its production. The resulting hydrogen fuel is produced with the only by-product being oxygen. The world’s largest offshore wind farm will now be powered with the world’s largest wind turbines. The new turbines are 220 meters high and have blades more than 100 meters long. When installed they will have the ability to power 16,000 homes each. Automaker Hyundai announced the launch of their new hydrogen powered car by having an athlete run in a bubble of the car’s tailpipe emissions, and Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the billionaire owners of beverage companies Pom and Fiji Water, donated $750 million to Caltech for climate research. The endowment is considered to be so significant that it “will no doubt change the world”, noted Dr. M. Sanjayan, chief executive officer of Conservation International.
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