Looking to build the buzz, my friends and colleagues at Upwell, which uses social media to promote ocean issues and awareness, created the destined-to-be-iconic, I "oyster" NY image at left.
Alas, as Chris Len points out, it isn't as simple as dropping some oyster larvae in the sea, and sitting back, waiting for them to grow. For one thing, although much improved following passage of the Clean Water Act, the waters of New York Harbor and environs are sufficiently toxic that what oysters remain "are severely stressed by pollution.
Oyster diseases are rampant, and Hackensack oysters in test cages suffer from shells so thin that in many cases, crabs can claw right through them."
And while oysters are great at filtering water – well, that's great for the water and it's fine for the oysters, but it isn't as good for anyone who wants to eat those oysters. "If you are what you eat," says Len, "and oysters eat poop, and so oysters are poop, when you eat oysters, you're really just eating a giant sandwich."
Yes, but we'd be growing oysters for filtering and storm-surge-protecting, not eating, right? Even so, officials in New Jersey banned research, restoration, and education projects using oysters in "contaminated" waters in 2010, for fear that people would illegally harvest and eat them, causing a human health hazard. Undeterred, NY/NJ Baykeeper worked with the United States Navy to establish some oyster nets at Naval Weapons Station Earle, which is under 24/7 security and immune from poaching.
All of these efforts were insufficient to protect against Sandy, of course; so great is the scale of devastation to oyster habitat in the region that it will be a long time before oyster reefs can come close to what they once more. But, says Greenberg, "for the storms to come, we'd better start planting a lot more oysters."
A sea of oysters at oyster industry plant at Blue Point, Long Island, New York in 1925. (Corbis)
Students place live oysters onto an experimental oyster reef in the shallow waters off of SoundView Park near the mouth of the Bronx River, Oct. 28, 2010. (Emily Anne Epstein, Corbis)
I "oyster" NY (Upwell)