Thursday, October 7, 2010

Decimated by Years of Pollution, Oysters Once Again Find Home in Jamaica Bay by Adam Lisberg - NY Daily News

Gregg Rivera pours oysters into Jamaica Bay near JFK Airport, part of $350,000 project to restore mollusks that have been absent for years.
Oysters left Jamaica Bay slowly, declining for decades from overharvesting and pollution, until they were just a memory.
Oysters came back Tuesday - by the bagful.
Under a gray sky, ecologists emptied the first of what will be thousands of oyster shells into the gentle waves of the bay - the beginning of a plan to rehab the reefs that once filled these waters.
"At one time, oysters were a navigation hazard. Ships were sinking just from coming into New York Harbor and hitting the reefs," said John McLaughlin, director of ecological services for the city Department of Environmental Protection.
He was standing on a boat slowly chugging to an underwater platform of old clam and mussel shells, where crews today will nestle up to 10,000 shells seeded with oyster larvae.
If years of planning and decades of cleaning up the bay work as hoped, the young oysters will survive and thrive - and encourage new life.
"They're a keystone species," McLaughlin said. "The water quality in the bay is the best it's been in a very long time."
DEP has poured $624 million since 2002 into improving the four sewage plants that dump into Jamaica Bay. Another $244 million worth of work is planned by 2014.
The tab for the oyster bed project is $350,000, and it has taken years of coordination with agencies and advocacy groups.
They used computer models of water currents to find the best home for the oysters - a long-neglected site surrounded by rotting wood pilings in the shadow of Kennedy Airport.
The marshes around the bay have been eroding over time - and the DEP hopes the oysters can help with regrowth.
If the oysters can reestablish a foothold, they'll help filter the water, improve its clarity and enable it hold more oxygen.
"A single mature oyster can filter 30 to 35 gallons of water a day. If you multiply that by a lot of oysters, that's a lot of water," McLaughlin said. "Restoring oysters, restoring the wetlands, restoring the eelgrass. These are all parts of the puzzle that over time should begin to have an effect."