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Soundview Park

The Daily Plant : Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pilot Oyster Project On The Bronx River

Photo submitted by Janine Harris

Parks’ Natural Resources Group (NRG), with community partners from the Bronx, recently constructed and installed a small oyster reef in the Bronx River, off of Soundview Park.  This project, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and secured through Congressman Jose E. Serrano’s Lower Bronx River Partnership, serves as a pilot study to help frame the best methods to restore oyster habitats and increase oyster populations in this part of the New York Estuary. 

Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) used to be so plentiful in New York City waters that, in the 19th century, oyster stands sold them on the half shell in the streets.  Over the next 100 years, the oyster industry saw a huge decline due to overharvesting, pollution, and disease.  By the late 1920s, following concerns about typhoid, the State Conservation Department closed New York City’s waters to shellfishing entirely.  Even without ongoing harvesting, oyster populations remained low due to habitat degradation, sedimentation and pollution.

Currently, small groups of oysters are observed surviving and reproducing throughout the City, including where the Bronx River flows into the East River. Oysters need hard surfaces to live and, at this location, they live on rocks, shells, tires, and other debris.  Though these oysters are not healthy for humans to eat, they greatly improve the health of the river.  An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day, removing sediments and algae from the water.  As oysters reproduce and grow together, their attached shells offer a stable reef habitat and protection for other animals in the water such as fish, crabs, worms and barnacles. 

In early July, youngsters from Rocking the Boat, a boat building and on-water environmental education group, and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, an environmental justice program for young people in the Bronx, helped prepare the base reef material for the restoration.  The volunteers shoveled clam shells, donated by Doxsee Sea Clam in Pt. Lookout, Long Island, into over 200 mesh bags to serve as the base reef material for this habitat restoration.  Clams rather than oyster shells were used because they are much easier to gather in volume as oysters are frequently eaten on the half shell, with shells scattered in the trash of different restaurants. 

On July 14, NRG, the Bronx River Alliance, and GreenApple Corps staff placed most of the shell bags into the restoration site in the water off of Soundview Park.  The middle of July is when most oyster larvae are known to be in the water column looking for a place to live.  Staffers created a chain to move the shell bags down the steep embankment at Soundview Park and worked during low tide to access the site by foot.  One week later, Rocking the Boat youths completed the top layer of the reef, placing the bags by boat.  The reef site was marked with posts and Rocking the Boat students maneuvered their boats precisely over the reef site for placement.

With the help of the Bronx River Alliance and Rocking the Boat, NRG plans to monitor the reef to determine how many young oysters are present as well as what other organisms are using the site as a habitat.  There are already signs of success for this project.  Community partners came together to accomplish the work, and young people with Rocking the Boat and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice learned about the Bronx River Estuary and Parks’ restoration work.  NRG looks forward to evaluating the ecological success of this project and continuing to work with the community partners to restore the Bronx River.

Submitted by Janine Harris


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Directions to Soundview Park

Know Before You Go

ParkSoundview Park

Portions of this park will be closed to bring an exciting and playful space for children, teenagers and adults to play. The new Metcalf Playground will bring an exciting and playful space for children, teenagers and adults to play and recreate.

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