New York Harbor is one of the largest natural harbors in the world, consisting of the waterways around the estuary at the mouth of the Hudson River where it empties into New York Bay. The Harbor offers picturesque views of the city and also houses our green-garbed national icon, Lady Liberty. After taking a hit from superstorm Sandy, environmental scientists are now trying to restore the health of the harbor with oysters.
ABC News reported that the oysters once played a vital role in the harbor providing both a vitamin-rich source of food and means of commerce and trade. According to environmental scientist and Rutgers professor Beth Ravit, one small oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.
According to Ravit, oysters help to get turbidity, or cloudiness, out of the water, thereby allowing sea grass and other plant species to grow. Oysters put oxygen into the water, promote photosynthesis, and create conditions by which other marine species can survive.
"They literally change, physically and chemically, the system it's a part of," Ravit, who has been studying oysters in the Hudson River Estuary since 2006 along with the New York/New Jersey Baykeepers, said to ABC News.
Through her studies, Ravit has observed that oyster larvae seek substrate, or a surface area, to attach to and search for adult oysters. As they pile up, the oysters form reefs that can serve to protect shorelines by providing wave attenuation. They also offer other marine plant and animal species places to live in the crevices.
"They look like the cold water version of a coral reef," Ravit said to ABC News. "They create a home and a restaurant for other species to live and eat."
In 2011, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, in a partnership with the Navy, granted Ravit and her team permission to renew oyster restoration efforts at a private pier located at the Naval Weapons Station Earle near Sandy Hook, N.J.
While Ravit is energetic and positive about cultivating the oyster restoration projects, she acknowledges that oysters and mussels aren't the only answer to cleaning the water in New York Harbor. But for now, she will continue to persevere in finding the right areas in the harbor for oysters to increase.
To learn more about the NY/NJ Baykeepers organization and its Oyster Restoration Project established in 1999, refer to the following link: http://www.nynjbaykeeper.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=61&Itemid=68.