For thousands of years, oyster reefs ringed New York Harbor, providing clearer water and a vibrant habitat for dozens of species of fish and marine life. Decades of water traffic and pollution have had a significant impact on the river's ecosystem and especially the oyster population. A team of partners, including the Verizon Innovation Program, have stepped in to help revitalize and cleanse New York Harbor.
A concerned partnership of schools, businesses, nonprofits and individuals is helping foster the New York Harbor School's ambitious project of cleaning and protecting waterways through an oyster restoration program. It's all part of the Billion Oyster Project, which aims to repopulate the harbor with one billion oysters over the next two decades.
Oysters provide massive ecological benefits
Oyster reefs once covered more than 220,000 acres of the estuary and hundreds of miles of shoreline. Oysters provided continuous water filtration and a clean habitat for thousands of marine species. Oysters are natural filter feeders that remove particles, sediment, impurities and bacteria after breathing water in and out of their shells. According to Sam Janis, restoration manager for the New York Harbor School, each oyster helps clean the sea by filtering more than 24 gallons of water a day.
But after 200 years of contact with human civilization, overfishing, disease and pollution have eliminated the eco-friendly mollusk.
"The native oysters have been destroyed," states Janis, a former teacher with Harbor School who now works with the New York Harbor Foundation. "There was excess algae and an eco-imbalance. Without oysters, the harbor will get even dirtier than it already is."
The Billion Oyster Project is committed to growing oyster reefs and making New York City a healthier and more resilient place to live. However, reseeding the oyster population required students to dive into the water and replace oysters one by one.
Technology to the rescue
The New York Harbor School is a public high school located on Governors Island, New York City, in the heart of the New York harbor. With support from the Verizon Innovation Program and its collaborative partners, an underwater wireless technology solution is now helping its students advance their goal of cleaning the harbor. The Verizon Foundation also contributed to the project by providing a grant to the Harbor Foundation for the development of education and technology programs that can leverage this new solution.
The school is now equipped with an underwater camera, devices that monitor water quality and analyze changes in water currents, and a wireless router to transmit the collected environmental data.
This collaboration gracefully combines science and technology while empowering the students with the resources they need to go underwater to see what's happening on the oyster reefs, and then use the data to make real sense of the environmental impact of their restoration efforts.
Together, Verizon, its partners, the Harbor School and New York City's maritime community will make a real difference. In the process, Harbor School students are building greater knowledge and skills in marine science, technology and engineering disciplines. In fact, oyster restoration is now integrated into the Harbor School's career and technical education programs and curriculum.
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