Can Oysters Singlehandedly Clean Up The Gowanus?


Widely-known fact about oysters: they’re delicious, go great with champagne, and make you feel real fancy when you suckle them down.

Less-known fact about oysters: they’re very, very good at cleaning up the water that surrounds them, filtering toxins out of up to 50 gallons of water per day.

And thus, oysters are the great grey hope of the perennially disgusting Gowanus canal, which is currently in the midst of vast “oyster-tecture” projects that aim to grow oysters in, and thus clean up, its murky waters.

Of course, the oysters will be unsafe for human consumption and illegal to harvest because of all the chemical sludge they’re helping to eradicate, but still, baby steps.

The Associated Press reported this week on local marine biologists, who have been working with the nonprofit Oyster Restoration Research Project to build oyster reefs in troubled waters, constructing a new reef off of Governor’s Island, an estuary in the Bronx, and soon, locations around Red Hook and Gowanus.

“Having oysters improves the whole aquatic habitat, attracting fish and other marine life to the area,” said the director of the Hudson River Foundation.

The shellfish, once a staple of New York waters, started dying off from pollution back in the 19th century, but with the right conditions researchers have been able to slowly encourage re-growth, which they view as an important step in the purification of local waters.

“The question is ‘how can we use the natural processes of organisms that were once here in abundance,'” explained an expert at the Parks Department’s Natural Resources Group.

It’s unfortunate news for the person who inevitably tries to eat and/or profit off of these toxic, mutant oysters, but as far as simple, effective ideas for environmental improvements go, this one isn’t bad.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.


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