New York may soon be having millions of oysters not as delicacies on dining tables, but as natural water filters in its harbor.
Huffpost Green reports of the Oyster Restoration Research Project that aims to build new waterfront structures to help restore oyster reefs in New York’s heavily polluted harbor waters.
“Oyster-tecture” is coined by landscape architect Kate Orff at Scape firm to describe the project of creating new waterfront infrastructures for shellfish to be established once again in their former habitats. In rehabilitating oyster beds, marine scientists and government officials hope the organisms will help clean the water by acting as natural water filters.
Oysters are a distinct group of bivalve molluscs that thrive in marine habitats. These bivalves are traditionally seen as delicacies and consumed either cooked or raw for special occasions. Pearl oysters are another popular kind of the bivalves which are cultivated for commercial use. Oysters naturally filter and process water as it consumes plankton. The compounds they ingest containing nitrogen are expelled as small, solid packets or pellets which are deposited on the bottom of their habitat. An adult oyster filters as much as 50 gallons a day. (Watch a time-lapse video of oyster filtering water here.) In addition to its water filtering functions, oysters are also keystone species in their habitats, providing shelter to other marine creatures.
The oysters being used in the project are not advisable for human consumption, however there are concerns that people might disregard advisories anyway and eat them. This has been one concern that eventually caused the opposition of a similar project in Sandy Hook Bay and the Raritan Bay.
Oyster-tecture can be said to be an example of bio-processing or bio-assisted technology, wherein an organism or organisms are used to prepare, produce, or treat a substance. Janine Benyus contrasts bio-processing to biomimicry in her TED talk and likens it (bio-processing) to a more common and well-known idea: domestication. Some examples of bioprocessing are the use of microorganisms to brew beer or make antibiotics.
While it seems that bio-processing and bio-assisted techniques are more natural methods in dealing with processing challenges than carbon footprint heavy industrial methods, it still presents difficulties. Such projects need close monitoring to avoid unintended consequences. In the case of oyster-tecture, one concern is the effect of contaminants and pollutants on the oysters’ health and further down the ecological chain. Another concern is the risk of these organisms to be seen as a band-aid solution to water pollution. Marine biologist Ray Grizzle who is studying the oysters in the project acknowledges this in the article news clip. People and cities need to lessen waste and improve waste management systems in order to ease back on water pollution, more than looking for effective water filter systems to pick up after the pollutants left behind by modern lifestyles.
Oyster-tecture might prove to be one of the brighter ideas when it comes to natural water filtering systems, but the brightest ideas can only go so far if people’s attitudes toward the environment and how it is affected by human actions remain the same. Just as in other key environmental challenges of our world today, it would benefit us and the environment more to deal with the root of the problem than its symptoms.
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