In 1609 when explorer Henry Hudson entered the New York Harbor, he was surrounded by hundreds of thousands of acres of oyster reefs. By the early 1900s, those areas were comparatively barren. Years of over-harvesting, dredging, and pollution had decimated the New York Harbor’s oyster population. After the Clean Water Act was passed in 1971, it paved the way for a more ecological future for the New York Harbor. Truthfully, the New York Harbor isn’t quite the place for your son or daughter’s Saturday swim meet, but there have been significant improvements to the water quality since the low point of the early 1900s.
One nonprofit is going above and beyond to bring abundant life back to the Harbor, with an ultimate goal of 1 billion oysters by 2030. The Billion Oyster Project (BOP) is an organization that formally launched in 2014 with the goal of restoring the harbor and its once flourishing population of oysters. To date they have restored 19.5 million oysters to the New York Harbor. In addition to that, they have reclaimed and recycled more than 300,000 pounds of shells, and removed 72,500 pounds of nitrogen from the atmosphere in the process.
Allison Frostmann, a Tarrytown resident who feels passionately about the water and its inhabitants, is bringing the BOP’s mission to Westchester. She has been involved in the BOP since 2015, and soon hopes to form a BOP of Westchester that focuses strictly on the Rivertowns between Yonkers and Cortlandt. “It was about looking at that [coast]line of Westchester… and seeing what a little army these oysters are,” says Frostmann. “I think they should be celebrated and propagated.”
The BOP has connected with 54 schools and 53 restaurants as partners. The schools aim to engage students in hands-on scientific research and stewardship. The Masters School in Dobbs Ferry has made the program part of their grades 5-12 curriculum, insuring that the students graduate with a diverse skillset in the sciences. Partnered restaurants donate their empty oyster shells to the BOP to be used in the repopulation of oysters. The shells will be seeded with oyster larvae, to carefully be grown and monitored at the nonprofit’s maritime education center in downtown Manhattan, and eventually become self-sustaining populations deposited into the Harbor. Some notable partner restaurants are NYC’s The Smith, Nobu Fifty Seven, and Lighthouse.