Something Special In The Ocean
When You picture New York City, There are so many iconic things that come to mind. However even before the yellow cabs and hot dog stands, New york was known for something else: Oysters. From the 1600s through the 1800s New York was booming with them and it was Oysters, not hot dogs, that were being sold in the street side by millions. Oysters reefs covered 220,000 acres along the coastline. The reefs were so large that ships needed to navigate around them. But of course this isn't the case in the modern world today. Oysters were overharvested nearly out of existence. Experts estimate we have lost about 85% of the world's Oyster reefs in the past 200 years. Today we tried to put them back. Because Oysters that you often find on a dinner plate might actually be an effective defense against the rising ocean. We're losing our coasts to climate change. As ocean levels rise, the water erodes the shoreline. This Pushes the entire coast back, encroaching on homes and destabilizing land.
So, enter the oyster. This uncharismatic rock of an animal. It's not cute but their charisma really lies in their functionality, rather than their form. Oysters obviously don't move around and that's exactly. Oysters stick together literally. Baby Oysters called “Spat” Attach to older ones and even dead Oysters in order to grow and build up the oyster reef. In some places, that sturdy reef can help defend the coast by dampening the force of incoming waves. If you have an oyster reef that's intertidal then it can perform some of that wave of energy protection function. Oyster reefs can break up waves by catching the burn of force. Part of the wave is deflected back to the ocean. The rest can more gently reach the shoreline. Which Slows long-term erosion on its own, an oyster reef “stops” a hurricane-level storm surge? Yes but it could definitely limit the damage. The larger they grow the more protection they can offer as time goes on, Sea levels will rise Unlike man made breakwaters that will need to rebuild overtime. Oyster reefs just keep growing upward. Various Organizations around the world are working to restore the oyster reefs. But Reef restoration isn't as simple as dumping oysters into a bay.
They need something to stick to in order to grow. In New York, One Organization puts Recycled shells in cages. For Oyster spat to grow on. Now on their own, concrete structures that are concave and usually found on waters are actually effective breakwaters. To understand, it helps to look at a more familiar type of reef. Oyster reefs provide much the same function as coral reefs. They provide the same kind of habitat. They are underpinning the ecological systems where they exist. Just like Coral reefs. Oysters are filtration systems. They eat by pulling in large quantities of water. Algae, Nitrogen, and other contaminants are eaten, A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water everyday.
As the water clarity improves, sea grasses start to grow, fish return and sea creatures make the crevices in the reef their home. They are this aggregating reef-building, hard structure. And so if you look at the way we try to deal with it. Reducing erosion right now, as a society for the most part we put rocks big pieces of concrete. We set up more or less walls to try to slow the rate of waves. Reduce the wind- driven erosion, the type of thing. Oysters can serve in that capacity in many ways but bring added advantages. Places like New York City or even Chesapeake Bay are way too industrialized to bring back the reefs of the 1600s however that's really not the point. I dont think thats necessarily the realistic goal however i do think we have a great opportunity to think about multiple benefits and the different kinds of needs of society whether it's to reduce wave impacts or offset nutrient inputs or generally increase the health and resilience of the bay as undoing the mistakes we made from the past can create reaction to a more sustainable future and it feels like we can achieve something.