Hokulea: New York program aims to build harbor’s oyster population

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The voyaging canoe Hokulea has arrived in New York, and on Monday, the crew got a chance to take part in events on Governors Island.

One of them aimed at building the oyster population in New York Harbor. The Billion Oyster Project was launched in 2014 and director Pete Malinowski said the program grew out of the Harbor School’s aquaculture program.

“The program was designed to produce oysters for the purposes of environmental restoration,” he said, “and then it started getting traction and feeding the expertise of the different career and tech ed programs, and that’s when it grew out of the aquaculture program. It became a whole school project and now it’s a city-wide project.”

Around 16-and-a-half million oysters from the project are in the harbor. They’re first grown in the project’s aquaculture lab “and when they’re ready to go into metamorphosis, and grow their own shells in the tank, they will leave the tanks and go to the harbor.

“And these oysters that are developing in the harbor, they’re not edible,” Malinowski said. “Their purpose is to clean the harbor and bring it back to what it was. The oysters are ecosystem engineers, so just like coral reefs, they provide a habitat for thousands of species of animals.”

The project is named because a 20-year goal of putting a billion oysters into New York Harbor.

A couple of people from Hawaii — University of Hawaii president David Lassner, DLNR head Suzanne Case and Virginia Pressler of the Dept. of Health — expressed an interest in the Billion Oyster Project and want to learn more if the idea can be used in the islands.

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