How oyster shells from NYC restaurants are recycled to restore reefs
You've heard of farm to table, but what about restaurants to reefs?
Oysters are small, but mighty when it comes to the work they're doing in the waterways of New York Harbor.
These briny bivalves play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy aquatic ecosystem and one New York-based nonprofit has tapped into public education, restaurants and volunteers to get more oysters back into the waters of New York City.
Billion Oyster Project, based on Governor's Island, located just an eight-minute ferry ride from downtown Manhattan, is on a mission to restore 1 billion oysters across 100 acres of oyster reefs to New York Harbor by 2035.
To date, the project has installed 12 reef sites over seven acres, planted 28 million live oysters, filtered 19.7 trillion gallons of water and collected over 1,300,000 pounds of oyster shells diverted from landfills and returned to the harbor to act as the building blocks for more reef sites.
One of the most unique and imperative aspects of the citizen science project is their shell recycling program that works with 75 restaurants around New York City to collect discarded shells.
"Oysters are like the greenest form of food production because you don't put any input into the water," acclaimed oyster expert Rowan Jacobsen told ABC News. "They get their food out of the water and clean the water in the process. So it's actually a net positive."
Oyster reefs have the ability to naturally filter water as they eat, which helps clarify the water and remove pollutants like nitrogen.
The reefs also provide a habitat for other marine species as well as help shield NYC shorelines from storm damage. Sort of like a natural storm wall, oyster reefs can "soften the blow of large waves, reduce flooding, and prevent erosion along shorelines," according to BOP.
"Beyond the pure environmental aspects, oysters are also being recognized for other ecosystem services that they provide and one of the biggest is storm protection," Jacobsen explained.
The shells are sorted and stored at partner restaurants, collected by operators like Cull and Pistol Oyster Bar and volunteers from 20 to 25 restaurants per day, Charlotte Boesch, who manages the shell collection program, told ABC News.