Oysters have always been the centerpiece of marine biology programs at the WFC, because after all, we are on Oyster Bay!  One of our favorite comments to visitors is, “what do you think of the farm?” When they look at us with suspicion, we explain about the oyster reefs in the water beneath us, the oyster harvesting boats and independent baymen nearby, and the FLUPSYs tied to the pier. Oysters (and clams) play a leading role in our Touch Tank programs. We specialize in educating the public about our local harbor and aquaculture, but a new program is connecting the WFC to a broader regional marine environmental project.

In early October, the WaterFront Center traveled to the Harbor School on Governors Island to participate in the Billion Oyster Project’s Oyster Restoration Station training.  It was a full day program with 50 other teachers and citizen scientists.  The Billion Oyster Project (BOP) is a long-term, large-scale plan to restore oysters in New York Harbor, as there were in the early 1900s, over the next 20 years. In the process, BOP plans to train thousands of young people in and around New York City to restore the ecology and economy of their local marine environment. BOP is a partnership of schools, businesses, nonprofits, and individuals working together to grow oysters and make NYC a healthier and more resilient place to live.  All the participants at the training session spent the day learning about the oyster and why increasing its population in these coastal waterways is so vital to the natural habitat.

BOP can achieve its goal by raising Oyster larva to spat (baby oysters) just like Frank M Flowers’s & Sons’ does in its hatchery operation in Bayville, and then placing them in growth cages, Oyster Restoration Stations (ORS), until they reach maturity. When oysters mature after their larva stage, they start to settle down, looking for older oyster shells and other rocky, hard substrates to attach to.  That can occur in the special ORSs created for the Project, and on oyster reefs as in Oyster Bay. BOP is also creating new oyster reefs by collecting used oyster shells from restaurants and depositing them in large quantities into various waterways.

During the training session at the Harbor School, participants were broken down into smaller groups and experienced the different lesson plans and procedures that accompany the Oyster Restoration Stations. Activities include measuring the growth of the oysters, analyzing the water quality in the vacinity, and examining the other organisms surrounding the cages, including predators. Students will take photos of the growth plates, identify the organisms that have settled on the plates and use calipers and a scale to measure the growth of the oysters on their settlement shells.  The ensuing data will be collected and uploaded to a central database to be used for long term study. BOP asks that station coordinators perform at least four data collections per year and recommends monthly checks for damage and maintenance.

The WFC will have three kits at our location. One will be managed by the WFC and available for many schools, and independent study students to investigate. The other two will be monitored by Friends Academy and the Waldorf School.  The Harbor School Billion Oyster Project is a wonderful opportunity to connect the WFC and Oyster Bay to our broader region, highlight the contribution of oysters to a healthy estuary environment, and increase interest in our local aquaculture industry.