HomeScienceOuter SpaceCan oyster reefs save the planet?

Can oyster reefs save the planet?

Credit: SCAPE Studio

Credit: SCAPE Studio

While we may not be able to do anything to prevent the existence of hurricanes, we can do something to lessen the devastation they leave – and the solution could be oysters. 10 years ago in New York City, during Hurricane Sandy, water levels reached nearly 14 feet above mean low tide as the storm ravaged the northeast. sandy eventually left at least 125 dead, millions without power and $60 billion in damage in the wake.

Oysters can potentially reduce the strength of the waves, and structures known as oyster reef living banks can act as storm protection. According to studies performed in the Gulf of Mexico, these structures can reduce the energy of powerful waves by as much as 76% to 93%. Unfortunately, it is estimated that about 85% of the world’s oyster reefs have been lost.

Oyster reefs were prominent all over the world, especially in New York. Almost 415 years ago, then Henry Hudson arrived where the city now stands, about 220,000 acres of oyster reefs dotted with the harbour. At the time, that was almost half of the world’s oyster population. But, with a cocktail of overconsumption, diseaseand pollution untreated sewage wiped out New York’s thriving oyster population.

Credit: Billion Oyster Project

Living banks, such as oyster reefs, play an important role in coastal defense and will become more critical during storms increase in strength because of the climate crisis. If the changing climate doesn’t stress you out, money might. A study estimated that human-induced sea level rise was responsible for $8 billion in damage during Hurricane Sandy.

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That’s where recovery efforts come in. SCAPE’s living breakwatersalong with the Billion Oyster Project, Rapid is working to implement 2,400 linear foot breakwaters near the coast to reduce coastal erosion on Staten Island.

SCAPE places oysters on their breakwaters to accelerate the coastal restoration process and increase biodiversity in the area. “We also have these tide pools, so in the intertidal zone, so they’re already full of clams and barnacles,” Kate Orff, founder of the project’s design studio, told NowThis. “This is the place to be if you’re a shorebird right now, so we’ve had a lot of shorebirds. We even saw a bald eagle land on the breakwaters last week – a huge eagle. I was shocked.”

“We now have about 15 billion oyster schools ashore on Staten Island,” Orff said. She hopes that in 5 to 10 years they will have a thriving oyster reef.

Credit: Billion Oyster Project

While oyster reefs can be useful natural breakwaters in a storm and help reduce the impact of large storms, they are not a one-size-fits-all solution. Elevated CO2 levels cause ocean water to become more acidic, which in turn makes it harder for oysters form their shells and thrive.

There is also the problem of over-harvesting, but you can really help with that by donating shells from oysters you eat to recovery projects in your area for recycling.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent worldwide to restore oyster populations. Even the military works hard to install several oyster barriers in multiple states and invest millions to protect piers and runways.

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So, the next time you slurp down an oyster, remember that it could have been the solution to coastal defenses against hurricanes.



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