Jamaica Bay oyster reef made from crushed toilets

- On an immaculate early October late-afternoon, a boat full of journalists motored out into Jamaica Bay for a first look at a man-made reef constructed of shells and the smashed porcelain of 5,000 inefficient New York City toilets.

"Oysters will settle on almost anything," said Hudson River Foundation senior scientist Jim Lodge, who leads the research portion of the $1.375 million joint experiment run by New York City's Department of Environmental Protection in conjunction with the Billion Oyster Project.

New York Harbor last saw that many oysters around 1900, before over-fishing and the sewage of 3.5 million New Yorkers killed every oyster -- and probably every one of everything else -- in the water.

"New York Harbor used to be filled with oysters and currently there are basically none left," lodge said.

50 cubic yards of oyster shells, 700 cubic yards of clam shells, and 180 cubic yards of porcelain will form these four reefs, on which the oyster larvae will hopefully attach and grow.

"They provide food and habitat for other animals, they stabilize the bottom, they can filter the water to increase water clarity," said Pete Malinowski, the project director of the Billion Oyster Project. He stressed the research portion of this research project. "We're trying to get a better sense of how oysters reproduce in Jamaica Bay," he added.

Whether the larvae or how many larvae from a floating reef of 50,000 breeding oysters settle, survive, grow and breed on the pile of cured shells and toilet parts on the bottom of Jamaica Bay none of these scientists know.

"The harbor's actually swimmable and fishable by EPA standards most days of the year," Malinowski said.

But all parties remind us that none of these oysters are safe to eat or will be at any point in the near future.

Lodge expects preliminary info on the success of this three-year project sometime in the next year, after the salt-spreaders finish scattering shell and toilet on the harbor bottom.

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