The World is Our Oyster

Jacqueline Lovci

The West End Secondary School Green Team began as an elective where students advocated for the community by planting flowers and taking trips to the river to examine our population of oysters. Later we became an intensive that researched the life of the oyster and traveled to the city to learn more about the pollution of our harbor. With this passion for the ecosystem, a very clear desire arose to protect and restore our harbor. Later with the help of assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal’s office, we wrote a bill that we have been hoping to pass for four years. 

Oysters are bivalves. This means that they break down the pollutants in water, turn it into condensed sudo feces, and expel the pollutants which sink to the bottom of the ocean and can break down further. Oysters are also a keystone species which means that they promote biodiversity within different species. Oysters grow typically on top of each other forming reeves, that serve as a home for plants, and different species of fish, which attract larger creatures. You could argue that Oysters would be an invasive species, but actually New York Harbor used to be home to a large population of oysters that died out due to overharvesting, and pollution. 

We reached out to the Billion Oyster Project, a nonprofit organization that uses oyster shells from restaurants all over the city to grow baby oysters or spat. Each recycled oyster has the potential to raise about ten new oysters. By 2035 the billion oyster project will have distributed a billion oysters across a hundred reefs in New York Harbor. Their name may sound familiar to you from our work with oysters in sixth grade. 

A member of the green team, Annabelle Alton said, “We’ve been working closely with the Billion Oyster Project and New York State Assembly members since the 6th grade, we have been able to make professional relationships with people interested in supporting our bill.” They are also the reason why WESS has an oyster tank in the harbor that the current sixth graders are able to visit. Their program picks up oyster shells and grows spat in an effort to restore the oyster populations in the harbor, and therefore their net filter feeding capabilities.

Our bill moves to give a tax credit (ten cents per pound) to any restaurant that donates their empty oyster shells to the billion oyster project. A tax credit is a subtraction from your overall taxes. This is to help alleviate the cost of recycling and holding oyster shells overnight. One big challenge in donating oysters is the fact that there is not a lot of space to house oysters in the cramped Manhattan area. If passed, our bill will give a tax credit to any participating restaurant in the state because we understand that harbor restoration goes beyond just the billion oyster project, and way beyond what we could do in our community.

  This past May 20th our Green Team, now known as the Oyster Bill Group, set off for Albany with the goal of gaining support for our bill. We had been once before but decided that to gain the support we needed to partner directly with the Billion Oyster Project and the managers and owners of Crave Fishbar to draw in crowds. During our time at Albany we learned so much about lobbying and our city’s government, and “Building relationships with state and local perpetuities has made me more politically aware” as ninth-grader Ali put it. 

Since then we have continued to work with Crave Fishbar in order to see what sustainably fish farming and consumption looks like. We even visited there Upper West Side location and learned how to shuck oysters, in addition to learning about the role that Craves plays in harbor restoration. We hope to advance our bill to a vote by next fall, but we’ll see! Until then we will keep calling assembly members, and working to raise awareness about our harbor.