The Longing of a Billion Oysters

Dredging has been happening in waterways around the world for thousands of years.
Sometimes it is to pull precious gems or minerals from a sea or river bed. Or to pull sand and silt for making concrete.
Sometimes it is to get material to infill on land.
There are lots of reasons that is has happened.
In New York Harbor much of the dredging that has happened over the last 300 years has been to fill in marshland to expand usable land and to deepen the harbor so that more and bigger ships with heavier loads can navigate safely. Manhattan island is shaped the way it is below Canal street due in no small part to infill from dredging.
Yes, commerce, seemingly, must be served at all costs. Ships from all over the world long to pull up in New York to unload their products in the hope that they will find their way to customers across the continent. To accommodate all these ships with ever larger number of shipping containers New York State has removed something like 35 Empire State Buildings worth of harbor floor material in the last ten to twelve years to drop the depth from about 41′ deep to about 50′ deep.
It is hard to say exactly what the floor of New York Harbor was like three centuries ago but before NewYork was called ‘The Big Apple’ it was called The Big Oyster. New York City oysters were plentiful. So it was likely a fairly rocky harbor bed. And oysters clean the waters where they live. For a long time New York Harbor – because of the oysters – was very clean water.
But as New York became more of a population center and commerce center more pollution started to be poured into the river and harbor. Maybe the oysters could have handled that.
But as the harbor got dredged two things happened
1. The rocky bottom got eliminated and oysters love rocky outcroppings to attach to
2. With every bit of dredging and deepening more water ran through making the currents more swift making it harder for baby oysters to fasten onto any surface.
The oysters never really had a chance. New York Harbor is now quite polluted not just from more liquid effluvia and trash but from the lack of oysters as well. Waterways rich with shellfish are also more resilient for storms as well. And there is no lack of storms coming.
So you might imagine with the nine extra feet of depth might mean for any future oysters in New York Harbor. It isn’t going to be easy with all that polluted water running through that much faster.
Conservationists in New York estimate that one billion oysters back in the waterways could clean the harbor and river and protect against storm surges…and so was born the Billion Oyster Project here in New York City.
But with the dredged and newly dredged water floor, well, it is just not ideal for oyster growth. It is too soft. Nothing for them to grab onto. So the Billion Oyster Project managers are introducing artificial reefs and other structures to slow water flow so the baby oysters can anchor on hard things. So things like old subway cars and other built structure are being dropped in.
And so they have been doing just this. But then they learned one other important thing about what baby oysters long for…the shells of other oysters. Elder oysters whose shells are mandatory for the next generation.
So now New York has to eat oysters to save oysters so they can have a clean and safe waterway for the future and save us from some of the natural world consequences of commerce.
New York City carts in tons of oyster shells that are nestled into and around these underwater structures so these baby oysters can have a chance.
This story is another example of how our well being is underwritten by the lives of animals.
And also it is a story about how the part that doesn’t seem needed or useful is mandatory for the next incarnation to come. If you think of oysters you think of the flesh and pitch the shells out. But those shells are what allows generations of oysters to live. The longing of billion oysters is for there to be shells of their kin around them so that they might continue to live and so might all of those who live in and around the water too.
Here is another model of how Primal Derma tries to proceed…with a remembering of how critical animals are for our capacity to live and how that little thought of part – the shell or the tallow – is needed for the whole web to keep functioning.
With any luck using Primal Derma and reading these missives might remind you of the worthiness of these kinds of efforts in the world.
Thanks so much for your continuing support.

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