Shelby: Students around the world are celebrating the earth this week by planting trees, reusing water bottles and conserving energy. But for students at a school in New York, their Earth Week conservation efforts won’t end tomorrow. Maggie Rulli has the story.
Maggie: New York is getting shell-shocked.
Erin Nolan: I love oysters.
Maggie: But these oysters won’t end up anywhere near your dinner plate.
Erin: One thing I learned in harbor school is that oysters fix everything.
Maggie: Erin Nolan is a senior at the New York Harbor School, a charter high school that focuses on marine studies. She takes me out in the water to see these multitasking mollusks in action.
Erin: The world is your oyster!
Loren Coen: Oysters, like coral reefs, not only form the habitat, but they also are important in what we call ecosystem services or functions.
Maggie: But that ecosystem has crumbled. After decades of pollution and over-harvesting for food, oysters went nearly extinct in the region. Now Erin and her classmates are part of a unique project with an ambitious goal. These students are working as part of the Billion Oyster Project. And that is not just a name. They want to bring, literally, one billion oysters to the New York Harbor.
You can think of it this way: to count a billion oysters, it would take more than thirty years! Now that might sound crazy but it is not impossible. In the early 1900s, hundreds of miles of oyster beds lined the East Coast, and the animal numbered in the billions.
Erin: I mean, oyster reefs used to be so big you could see them out of the tops of the water. So if that happens, that will be amazing.
Maggie: To get those oysters back, more than thirty organizations around the New York area have partnered with the Billion Oyster Project. And The Harbor School is its main production hub, hatching more than 10 million oysters a year. Once grown, they are then deposited throughout the city’s harbor.
I got oyster gunk on me!
The reefs are known as oyster-tecture. Yep, that is oyster architecture. And when complete, it will be one of the largest oyster reef restorations in the country. This oyster reef will help protect the mainland from storms and it will serve as a rich habitat for an entire underwater ecosystem.
There is a whole other kind of life in here. We have got oysters, shrimp, crabs, worms, bacteria.
Bani Nedrick is a sophomore at The Harbor School.
So, what can you tell me about this thing right here? Because it looks a little funky.
Bani Nedrick: The oyster is important because it is a keystone species; they provide homes for smaller fish. And when you provide homes for smaller fish, you bring a lot of different species to the ecosystem. So we want a lot of different species coming to the ecosystem to bring back biodiversity.
Maggie: The oyster also helps maintain a healthy ecosystem, working kind of like a filter to remove particles. Just one little oyster will filter fifty gallons of water every single day. So just imagine what one billion will do!
A little mollusk making a big splash!
Erin: They have so many benefits. Like they don’t harm the ecosystem at all. All they do is benefit it.
Maggie: Helping to create a healthier future not only for the oyster, but for humans as well.
Bani: I kind of feel like a superhero saving the world. So I really feel like I’m making a change.
Maggie: Maggie Rulli, Channel One News.
Shelby: Can’t get enough of Earth Week? Well, head to ChannelOne.com for some behind the scenes photos and a closer up at an oyster harvest.