Ten years ago in YES! ...
We shared the December 1998 discovery of a dozen oysters that a fisherman hauled out of the Hudson River near Yonkers, New York. The catch was significant because by the 1940s most of the Hudson’s once-massive oyster population had died out due to overharvesting and pollution. The oysters’ resurgence indicated that the Hudson’s water quality had improved, partly due to the closure of nearby copper plants and cleanup efforts that removed industrial pollutants.
The Hudson’s water quality has indeed improved, but those oysters likely didn’t get there by themselves. Oyster restoration efforts started in 1997, when N.Y./N.J. Baykeeper did studies on whether oysters could live in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary again. Though the water wouldn’t yield edible oysters, it was good enough for them to survive. Meredith Comi, Baykeeper oyster program manager, credits the improvement to the Clean Water Act of 1972 and the installation of wastewater management systems.
By about 2000, oyster gardening efforts were underway to help re-establish oyster reefs in the estuary, and this project is still growing. Through the New York City Oyster Gardening Program, volunteers with access to the estuary grow baby oysters in a net. After a year, the oysters are planted on restoration sites located around the mouth of the Hudson River. The Electric Oyster Project and the Cornell University Center for the Environment are among other groups working to establish new oyster reefs in the area.
Now that the river is clean enough for oysters, the oysters are helping to further clean up the river. Oyster reefs can support more than 200 species of plants and animals and help filter suspended solids out of the water. A single oyster can filter up to three liters of water per hour.
Chris Anderson, marine-science educator at The River Project, says that while the meager oyster population has grown, oyster repopulation efforts have yet to establish a thriving reef.
Comi estimates that the NYC Oyster Gardening Program hands out about 50,000 oysters per year, and about 300,000 of the program’s oysters reside in the restored reef sites of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary today.