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The Mighty Oyster and How It Might Protect Us from Future Disasters

October 31, 2012

Paul Greenberg, author of “Four Fish“, a book that I read recently and highly recommend, had an interesting response to hurricane Sandy; he put out a call for the return of the oyster. Oysters now are better known on the half shell in New York City restaurants than they are for their presence in New York Harbor, but they used to be a vital part of the ecosystem. Able to filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, oysters used to number in the trillions along the eastern seaboard, and played a huge part in the stabilization of banks. They thrive in places where freshwater and saltwater meet, and, in New York Harbor (one such environment) built colonies on top of old oyster shells, creating mounds and reefs underwater world that broke and slowed waves headed for the shore.

And it wasn’t just oysters; clams, mussels, and crabs also joined these reefs. In 1887, it was reported that the Fulton Fish Market sold 50,000 oysters a day. However, the thriving ecosystem was destroyed from river pollutants, and human consumption. As rivers have been cleaned up in the past few decades, there has been a movement to bring oysters back. And who knows, maybe it will be the tiny bivalve and the return of a coastal ecosystem that will ultimately sustain us and protect us against future storms of the magnitude as Hurricane Sandy.

Read Paul Greenberg’s full op-ed in the New York Times.

photo Rachel Nuwer via

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