Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Jamaica Oysters No Shell Game: Bay's Pollution Hinders Renewal by Lisa Colangelo - NY Daily News

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It's been a long time since oysters called Jamaica Bay home.

Pollution, overharvesting and other woes wiped out what was once a healthy population of the bivalves.

But a new study is showing that oysters may be able to return and even help clean up Jamaica Bay.

Researchers have been able to grow oysters in certain test areas. And now they are trying to find out if there is any natural oyster larvae flowing into the waterway.

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens, Brooklyn) pointed out that tons of treated wastewater is dumped in the bay, making it tough for anything to survive.

"Oysters are a natural filter," Weiner said during a news conference at Brooklyn's Floyd Bennett Field with researchers who are conducting the study. "This could help us deal with that problem. We don't want this waterway to go the way of the Gowanus Canal."

Prof. Jeffrey Levinton of SUNY Stony Brook, who is overseeing the study, said it's a good sign that he was able to grow oysters in parts of the bay.

Seafood lovers, however, shouldn't get their hopes up.

"We are not looking to restore them as a food source," said Barry Sullivan, superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area. "But they are a really effective filter."

For the next few weeks, Levinton will check to see if any oyster larvae attach themselves to shells submerged in the water.

During the current phase of the study, which is being funded by the National Park Service and the Hudson River Foundation, several bags of shells were placed in different locations around the bay.

The hope is that oysters will be able to grow on their own. But that may be a long shot.

And if that fails, officials said, much more study will have to be done before any full-scale plan is developed to reintroduce oysters to the bay.

One fear is that bringing in nonnative oysters could hurt the bay's already ravaged ecosystem.

But Dan Mundy of the Jamaica Bay Eco Watchers fears officials are being too cautious.

"We wish we could bring in thousands of oyster shells, spread them around the bottom of the bay and bring in live seed oysters tomorrow," said Mundy. "Time is of the essence. We are losing acres of marsh and the water is declining."

He said bringing back oysters would boost other efforts to clean up the bay, which include restoring the marshes and upgrading wastewater treatment plants.

"There is no magic bullet," Mundy said. "We're trying everything."