Fish and Shellfish Habitat Creation and Seeding Project - Pilot Oyster Reef
Oyster used to be so plentiful in New York City waters that you could buy them in the half-shell from stands in the streets. The oyster industry saw a huge decline due to over-harvesting, pollution and disease and since the early 1900’s, New York City waters have been closed to oyster harvesting. Within the last 10 years, organizations around New York City have noticed small groups of oysters that are surviving in locations throughout the city. One location is the Bronx River where it flows into the East River. Oysters at this location live on rocks, shells, tires, and other debris. Though the oysters are not healthy for humans to eat, they are very important to the health of the river, as they filter large capacities of water and offer habitat for other animals in the water such as fish, crabs, worms and barnacles.
The Natural Resource Group (NRG) is working to offer more habitat for oysters in this section of the Bronx River with the following goals:
- To increase fish and shellfish habitat in the lower Bronx River by creating new habitat structures on the existing landscape
- To increase the sustainable oyster populations in the Bronx River to restore subtidal diversity to the Bronx River Estuary
- To improve water quality in the Bronx River Estuary by increasing the oyster populations which have a great water filtering capacity.
- To increase education and stewardship opportunities for local environmental programs
NRG worked with Rocking the Boat, the Bronx River Alliance, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, the Green Apple Corps and Lehman College's LaMER to prepare materials for a pilot reef, place the materials in the water, and monitor the structures.
NRG is cooperating with The NY/NJ Baykeeper, The River Project and The Gaia Institute in regards to city-wide planning for oyster restoration. We hope to work together as a unified groups of scientists interested in oyster restoration in NYC waters.
Proposed Bronx River Oyster Restoration Project Location Map
NRG, Rocking the Boat, the Bronx River Alliance, the Green Apple Corps and the Youth Ministries of Peace and Justice created a second reef in July. The new reef has a border of clamshell bags and is filled with loose shell inside. This more natural setting will allow the reef to grow without having to be removed from trays or bags. All the groups involved worked together to move the shell from the site at Soundview out to the water with the help of Rocking the Boat’s rowboats and the Bronx River Alliance’s canoes. The new reef and the original pilot reef will be monitored throughout the summer and into the fall. Also this summer, NRG with the help of Rocking the Boat placed spat collectors in four spots in the river to catch baby oysters as they make their way through the water.
NRG, Rocking the Boat and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice filled 205 mesh bags with clamshell that was obtained by donation from Doxsee Sea Clam in Point Lookout, Long Island. The GreenApple Corp Queens and Bronx crews and the Bronx River Alliance Crew came out to Soundview Park on Friday, July 14th, to place the first layer of the pilot reef. The groups helped to create a chain to carry the bags of clam shells to the waters edge and to then move them out to the site by boat. A grid 11 bags x 12 bags was placed into the water, and monitoring trays with 2 bags each were placed within the grid. The total area of the project is 6 m x 3 m. The second layer of the reef was placed by Rocking the Boat from their boats.
NRG and Rocking the Boat worked to identify the best location on the Bronx River for an oyster reef restoration. By surveying the benthic environment at Soundview Park, an area with firm substrate was located and identified as an ideal place for the restoration location. NRG and Rocking the Boat also placed three oyster gardens on the river to identify where oysters can survive the best. These gardens are nets that contain different tiers where oysters are placed. One garden is still on the river with oysters that are now over a year old. Rocking the Boat measures the growth of these oysters once a month. The two other gardens were lost to vandalism.
NRG began research for this project by learning more about the groups of oysters living at Soundview Park and by working with project partner Rocking the Boat to determine where oyster spat were settling on the river. Spat collectors (strings of oyster shells) were placed in 5 locations on the Bronx River and were checked regularly for oyster settlement. The shells were also analyzed for other organisms that sought protection in the shells as they would an oyster reef. NRG learned that the group of oysters at Soundview Park were reproducing when spat were discovered in November, 2004 and a variety of sized individuals were measured.
Learn more about monitoring related to this restoration project: