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New York to revive oyster population by growing them on recycled toilets

It’s hoped that boosting the population of oysters will protect the city from future storms.

Oysters in New York's harbour were depleted over centuries because of overharvesting.
Oysters in New York's harbour were depleted over centuries because of overharvesting.
Image: PA WIRE

TOILETS MIGHT NOT immediately conjure up thoughts of marine life. Nevertheless, New York is growing 50,000 oysters on beds of recycled lavatory porcelain near one of the world’s busiest airports.

The ‘Billion Oyster Project‘, which the city unveiled this Tuesday, is designed to boost storm defenses and improve the quality of brackish and freshwater wetlands of Jamaica Bay, home to John F. Kennedy Airport.

The $1 million project (around €890,000) will be rooted in oyster beds made up of broken porcelain from nearly 5,000 recycled toilets, decades after the natural population died out due to pollution and overharvesting.

Officials hope they help create a more sustainable and resilient city, buffer New York from future storms and clean up the water. Mayor Bill de Blasio said:

This oyster bed will serve multiple purposes – protecting our wetlands from erosion, naturally filtering our water and providing a home for our sea dwellers are just a few.

Over the past few years, New York’s population has risen because of environmental laws and improved water quality in the harbour.

An estimated 17 million oysters have been restored because of conservation work in New York’s waters, and the One Billion Project aims to grow 1 billion oysters and 100 acres of oyster reefs by the year 2030.

Stats - Oysters Massive efforts have been made to increase New York's oyster population. Source: Billion Oyster Project

Oysters prevent storms

New York was paralyzed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which also caused devastating damage in neighbouring states New Jersey and Connecticut.

The oyster reefs, which were decimated for over four centuries, could have stopped a significant portion of the flooding that caused massive damage to the city.

The monster storm killed more than 200 people, left hundreds of thousands homeless and cost the city more than $40 billion in repairs.

Oysters help keep marine ecosystems healthy by filtering pollutants from the water, protecting wetlands and shoreline from erosion and storm surge, and providing habitat for fish and other organisms.

The 50,000 oysters are expected to spawn once they reach maturity, and the hope is they will become self-sustaining. The surrounding waters will be monitored for two years for quality improvements.

City Hall confirmed that the oysters would not be farmed for food, which would deplete the number available to help with the ecosystem. Hence no toilet-to-table oysters at New York restaurants anytime soon.

- © AFP, 2016

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