Red Hook

Oyster projects struggle in harsh Hudson waters

July 5, 2024 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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RED HOOK — Projects to revive the Hudson and East rivers’ “functionally extinct” native oyster populations are making slow progress, reports Gothamist, with as many as half of the oysters returned to the waters by groups like the Hudson River Park Trust and the Billion Oyster Project dying. Ecologists say that these struggles were expected while the oyster colonies build up the critical mass needed to maintain stable numbers. Oysters reproduce by releasing their sperm and eggs freely into the currents, where they drift for weeks before settling, meaning that small populations suffer from a “needle in a haystack” effect, as well as from hazards like cold winter temperatures, boat activity and strong currents. Oyster reef restoration is intended to help cleanse the estuary’s waters of pollution via the bivalves’ natural filtering abilities (an adult oyster can filter around 50 gallons of water a day) and to provide habitats for other marine life and blunt storm waves. Initiatives include deploying artificial reef structures around New York Harbor to monitor population increases, creating reefs out of older oyster shells and nurturing oyster eggs and larvae, among other efforts.

New York Harbor was once carpeted in oysters before local stocks were destroyed by overuse. In the 1880s, the rivers hosted 220,000 miles of oyster beds — a decrease from the time of Henry Hudson’s voyages, when he described oysters as large as dinner plates. Some biologists have estimated that the harbor may have contained as many as half of the world’s oysters at one point.

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