Oyster Reef Restoration, a Shining Conservation Success

Student volunteers survey oysters in New York Harbor as part of the Billion Oyster Project. Image: Billion Oyster Project

Living shorelines (as opposed to concrete seawalls) have proven to be one of the best buffers against rising seas and storm surges in coastal communities. One of the best ways to naturally buffer shorelines is to build oyster reefs and in New York City, a city-wide effort to grow oysters is successfully helping to protect New York Harbor.

As CNBC reported:

The Billion Oyster Project is one of the most ambitious — a table-to-farm strategy backed by nearly $4 million in state and federal funding from the 2012 Superstorm Sandy.

  • It collects 10,000 pounds of discarded restaurant shells per week, brings them to Governor’s Island to cure for a year, then puts them into a hatchery where they spawn oyster larvae that mix with the shells.
  • Depending on its size, one old shell can become a new home to up to 20 new oysters.
  • The goal is to put 1 billion live oysters across 100 acres of reefs by 2035 — bag by bag.

That’s Not All: Student volunteers help sort the oysters while getting the chance to learn about conservation and marine stewardship.

How to Scale: Living shorelines projects are often funded through government funds but also through public-private partnerships. This past summer, Congressman Frank Pallone (NJ-06) introduced the Living Shorelines Act, a bill that includes robust funding that would authorize nearly $50 million a year for NOAA to assist with the creation of living shorelines. While the bill hasn’t been voted on yet in the House of Representatives it’s the sort of legislation that would expand climate preparedness projects that have bipartisan support.

Why This Matters: Oyster reef restoration is a popular and cost-effective way to rebuild coastlines from California to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. Additionally, there’s usually substantial bipartisan support for these types of projects among voters in coastal states. This is good policy that more lawmakers should support as it creates jobs as well as positive outcomes for communities threatened by coastal flooding. Interestingly enough, restoring coastlines to make them more resilient was not outlined in the Green New Deal framework, an omission that many oceans experts were quick to point out as the “Big Blue Gap.”

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