Magazine article The New Yorker

You Say Oyster

Magazine article The New Yorker

You Say Oyster

Article excerpt

In "The History of the Colony of Nova Caesaria, or New Jersey," the historian Samuel Smith quotes a letter from an early colonist about the "abundance of brave oysters" populating the local waters. Back then, oyster reefs covered three hundred and fifty square miles of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. Wild oysters still grow in the area, on old tires, rubble, and boats--though not in anything that could be described as abundance. And they have to be braver than ever to do so: when the first oyster growth projects in New York City were launched, in 1997, the oysters planted in the Gowanus Canal were thought to have been eaten by rats.

Tiffany Medley, a doctoral student in biology at CUNY, has spent two years surveying every cranny of the estuary for signs of wild-oyster colonies, and she has found dozens of sites where oysters have settled, including near the George Washington Bridge. "It was like a miracle to find that," she said the other day.

Medley was a presenter at the Restoring the Urban Oyster conference, on Governors Island, where, earlier this summer, politicians, environmentalists, artists, and other mollusk enthusiasts came together for a series of panels, lunch, and some informal bivalve-themed networking. Topics of conversation ranged from improving oyster habitats (one theory involved using an electric current to stimulate the creation of underwater limestone for the oysters to grow on) to methods of keeping students who are monitoring oysters "from sinking into the muck of Newark Bay." But all the presentations shared a common goal: to provide a "hopeful new beginning for the Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica," as a handout put it.

Among their many nifty qualities--the ability to change sex, seemingly at random, and to turn a piece of grit into a pearl--oysters act as natural water-purification systems. "Think of oysters as the catalytic converter on your car," Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, explained. One adult oyster can filter up to twenty-four gallons of water in a day, and so the crew at Governors Island looked at the species less as a delicacy awaiting a dollop of cocktail sauce than as a potential environmental savior for New York Harbor.

Cousteau, an undersea explorer and a self-described "tech weenie," was overseeing a group of teen-agers at the end of a newly built dock on the north end of the island. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.