Oris’s mission to bring Change for the Better continues through a new collaboration with Billion Oyster Project, a pioneering non-profit working to restore New York Harbour’s once-lost oyster population. The project’s vision is ambitious: to restore one billion oysters to the city’s iconic waterways by the year 2035. Pete Malinowski, executive director and co-founder of Billion Oyster Project, explains why he believes it’s possible to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor by 2035
Why? Several centuries ago, New York Harbor was home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs. An adult oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day, while oyster colonies create ecosystems for other marine life, and form natural storm barriers. Oyster reefs are to the ocean what trees are to the forest.
As New York City grew in stature as a global hub for trade and shipping, its population developed a taste for oysters. At the same time, the harbour became a dumping ground for sewage, industrial waste and other pollutants. By the early 20th century, the harbour’s water was filthy and diseased. Marine life all but vanished.
It wasn’t until 1972 that New York’s Clean Water Act was passed, prohibiting the dumping of waste and raw sewage into the harbour. In time, the water quality began to improve so that come the millennium, marine life started to return. In 2010, whales were spotted in the harbour.
Billion Oyster Project began in 2014. Founded by educators Murray Fisher and Pete Malinowski, it recognised that without educating current and future generations, conservation efforts would be futile.
In the years since, the project has brought 11,000 volunteers, 8,000 students, 100 New York City schools and more than 50 restaurant partners together to place oysters, build reefs, and keep the story going.
And together, they’re bringing Change for the Better. Billion Oyster Project has introduced 75 million juvenile oysters to 18 restoration sites covering 14.5 acres of New York Harbor, and the oyster population is now self-sustaining.
A pearl of an idea
Pete Malinowski, executive director and co-founder of Billion Oyster Project, explains why he believes it’s possible to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor by 2035
Pete, tell us a bit about yourself…
I grew up on an oyster farm and worked there after school and during vacations. After college, I moved to New York City to become a public school teacher and met Murray Fisher, the founder of New York Harbor School and co-founder of Billion Oyster Project. We discussed creating an oyster restoration project for Harbor School students to get them practising different maritime trades and improving Harbor School’s classroom, New York Harbor. I started teaching Aquaculture and growing and restoring oysters with my students in 2008 and that led to the development of Billion Oyster Project.
What is Billion Oyster Project?
It’s a non-profit aimed at restoring one billion oysters to New York Harbor through public education initiatives. More than that, it is the idea that the best way to improve outcomes for public school students and for the natural environment is to train students to restore the environment. We believe that students thrive when given the responsibility of caring for and improving the natural world.
Why is it so important to restore the harbour’s oyster population?
You wouldn’t ask that if we were talking about a 200,000-acre forest. Oysters, like trees, are ecosystem engineers. They form the three-dimensional structure and habitat of the ecosystem. Historically, oyster reefs in New York Harbor provided food and habitat for hundreds of other species, filtered the water, and protected the shores from waves and storms. By restoring oyster reefs, we can rebuild that lost ecosystem.
How do you restore an oyster population?
It all starts with reclaimed oyster shells, which we collect from more than 50 New York City restaurants. Roughly 6,000 pounds of shell are collected each week and transported to Governors Island where they spend one year in large mounds – exposed to the elements. A year later, they are ready to be rinsed and placed into reef structures – built by volunteers – and submerged into tanks full of harbour water. Next, freeswimming oyster larvae are released into the water where, after a few days or so, they find a spot to settle and grow their own shell. At this stage, the oysters are “spat on shell” and large enough to be counted before these structures are placed in the harbour at one of 18 restoration sites. Many of these sites are then monitored by schoolchildren or community groups, and our long-term progress is tracked by our team.
What are your big achievements so far?
There is a noticeable difference in water quality and clarity as you approach our oyster reefs and nurseries. We’re also seeing more examples of wildlife in the harbour, from whales and seals, to seahorses and pipefish.
And what are your goals?
We want to engage one million people in restoring one billion oysters by 2035. And we want New Yorkers to walk down to their nearest waterfront to immerse themselves in nature rather than leave the city to enjoy it.
Can people reading this get involved?
Yes! If they’re in New York City, they can volunteer with us and encourage their schools and restaurants to participate in our programmes. You can also become a member to support our work. And members get oyster vouchers at partner restaurants.
What does the Oris partnership involve?
Billion Oyster Project was introduced to Oris through our board member Xander Fong. From the beginning, our brands seemed well-aligned, and it’s exciting to see them come together. Funds raised by the New York Harbor Limited Edition will provide general operating support at a very important time. This year, we’re on track to restore our 100 millionth oyster to New York Harbor.
How important is it that luxury brands are active in environmental projects?
Established luxury brands, like Oris, are invaluable to organisations like Billion Oyster Project. Beyond financial support, the opportunity to share our local effort with a global audience is critical in reaching our goals.
Oris introduces a 2,000-piece limited edition based on the Aquis diver’s watch in support of Billion Oyster Project. It has a green mother-of-pearl dial and comes with a rubber strap, bracelet and strap change tool.