For those involved with the Beczak Environmental Education Center’s latest Hudson River project, the world is their oyster. Or, rather, the oyster is their world.
The Yonkers nonprofit center has partnered with the NY/NJ Baykeeper organization, another nonprofit focused on protecting the Hudson River estuary, to assist with their Oyster Restoration Program.
About 400 years ago, oyster reefs covered 350 square miles of the Hudson-Raritan estuary. By the turn of the last century, however, the population had steadily declined due to pollution, disease, and excessive commercial fishing. The goal of the restoration program is to reintroduce oyster populations into the estuary to see if they are able to survive. The hope is that they should be able to grow well and reproduce, simultaneously helping to increase the overall health of the Hudson by removing toxins from the water.
“The oysters serve as a natural filtration system for the river,” said Vicky Garufi, education program manager at Beczak. “If they can thrive, they’ll filter up to 30 gallons of water per day. In addition, the empty oyster shells serve as a shelter for smaller fish, increasing their populations as well.”
Beczak staffers brought the bivalves from Governor’s Island to their waterfront location in Yonkers. (“We had to transfer 600 oysters to Yonkers ourselves,” said Garufi. “It was funny, we got a lot of looks and questions from people on the subway.”) After reaching their new home, the oysters were placed in a metal cage and suspended from a wooden dock piling into the Hudson. The study’s participants examine a sample set of 50 oysters each month, focusing largely on growth and mortality rate, with predator intrusion taken into account. The first recorded measurements, taken in July, showed that the oysters had grown to double their original size. Nine of them had died, however — most likely due to an invasion of mud crabs (which are known to be oyster predators and estuary inhabitants) into the cage.
If the program succeeds, it could have a beneficial effect on the Hudson and its dwellers. “I’m excited to see what comes of this,” says Garufi. “If the survival rate is good, it shows that the river is becoming healthier.”
To keep the public up-to-date on the project’s status, Garufi posts stories, updates, and other “pearls” of wisdom on the Beczak Center’s blog.