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The Awesome Oyster!

From identifying trees to seining in the East River, Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy offers a variety of fantastic educational programs to students of all ages. One new program in particular, The Awesome Oyster, allows students to take part in a city-wide research project that is reintroducing this nearly extinct keystone species to New York City’s waterways. In 2012, the Conservancy teamed up with the Billion Oyster Project to help restore the New York Harbor ecosystem through live oyster reintroduction. The Awesome Oyster is a new, incredibly unique, and engaging educational opportunity for students to analyze an oyster’s place in the East River.

Gathering at Pier 5, this course allows school groups from grades 2 – 8 to explore and learn about our very own oyster gardens at Brooklyn Bridge Park. The class employs dynamic activities and the scientific method, where students are introduced to new terminology – like brackish water, keystone species, and filter feeders – that provide insight into the relationship between oysters and the New York Harbor.

Oyster reefs promote biodiversity by providing a safe habitat for fish, crabs, and countless other marine organisms that make these reefs their homes. Dating back to the area’s first settlers, the people of the Lenape nation, oysters have been revered as a delicacy and functioned as a primary food source. Due to population growth and perceived abundance, oysters were thoroughly overharvested. Additionally, increased industrial activity, lack of environmental regulation, and dredging threatened this organism’s existence in the New York City Harbor. With these creatures nearly extinct, water quality declined tenfold.

Children examining oysters outside.

© Shellita Orie

Following the decline of the estuarine waters, waves of regulatory policies were enacted, allowing the estuary to become habitable and capable of oyster reintroduction. These seemingly insignificant critters are essential to restoring New York City’s waterways to their pre-industrial state!

By measuring and counting oysters, and identifying organisms that live near or on oysters, students participating in the Awesome Oyster record crucial information about the oysters in our gardens and more importantly, the health of our local ecosystems. We’re proud to participate in Billion Oyster Project and our Awesome Oyster program gives students the chance to participate in this city-wide restoration effort. By working as real estuarine scientists, students dig into our eight oyster gardens and evaluate oyster health and witness firsthand the oysters’ tremendous ecological significance to the East River ecosystem. So all you emerging scientists out there, come on down and learn what really makes oysters so awesome!

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