The year is 1620. William Bradford and the Mayflower Pilgrims land on what becomes known as Plymouth Rock, in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Head south about 400 miles south to New York Harbor. Whales, dolphins, seals, seahorses, herring, striped bass, and hundreds of other species in the Harbor enjoy the benefits of oyster reefs — an ecosystem that had already sustained the local Lenape people for generations. At this point in time, New York Harbor was one of the most diverse and dynamic environments not just in North America, but the entire planet.
Flash forward to 1906. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt leaves for a trip to Panama to inspect the construction progress of the Panama Canal (the first time a sitting President of the United States makes an official trip outside of the United States).
And New York Harbor is basically lifeless.
The absence of oysters is a key reason for this change.
A recent story from ABC News (USA) caught my attention. I suggest you watch the video here:
From the ABC story:
Oysters filter water and the physical reef creates an ecosystem for other sea life, in addition to becoming a kind of natural speed bump for storm surge that can erode coastlines during storms.
"Oysters are probably one of the most sustainable foods we have. They require no feed, no fresh water, no land to produce. And they're doing something good for the environment when they're filtering the water, providing habitat for surrounding fish and invertebrates," said Robert Jones, the global aquaculture lead from the Nature Conservancy.
There’s a pandemic aspect to this: with people not eating oysters, the oysters became too large to eat as restaurants closed and seafood and shellfish demand rescinded.
Environmental organizations came together to find a way to use those oysters for general betterment. The Nature Conservancy and Pew Charitable Trusts announced plans to buy millions of unsold oysters and return them to the ocean as living reefs.
Where does project management come into play here? The story talks about collaboration between key stakeholders, such as The Nature Conservancy, government, schools and something called the Billion Oyster Project. Learn more about this amazing organization here.
In the many project management courses I teach, I stress that every project should be linked to an organization’s vision.
Here’s the vision statement of the Billion Oyster Project:
VISION: A future in which New York Harbor is the center of a rich, diverse, and abundant estuary. The communities that surround this complex ecosystem have helped construct it, and in return benefit from it, with endless opportunities for work, education, and recreation. The harbor is a world-class public space, well used and well cared for—our Commons.
The project work being done exemplifies this vision. Have a look at this short video describing the actual tasks involved.
Did you know that New York Harbor was once home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs? Or, that an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day? The historic evidence of oysters in New York Harbor, combined with the oyster’s reputation as an “ecosystem engineer”, drives us to return New York Harbor to its rightful place as an ecological treasure. Here’s why we need them:
Like coral reefs, oyster reefs provide 3D habitat for hundreds of species. Oysters grow off of one another — creating a hardy infrastructure for a lively underwater city of marine wildlife. Reefs are to the ocean what trees are to the forest.
Oysters Filter Water
Oysters filter water as they eat, which helps clarify the water and remove certain pollutants, including nitrogen. This is very important to a marine ecosystem, because excessive nitrogen triggers algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen and create “dead zones.”
Oysters Reefs are a Natural Storm Barrier
Massive oyster reef systems in New York Harbor were once a natural defense against storm damage—softening the blow of large waves, reducing flooding, and preventing erosion.
The project is already producing outcomes:
- 8,000 NYC students have participated
- 1.6 million pounds of shells have been collected
- 47 million live oysters restored
I love this story because it shows that collaboration, cooperation, vision, with contributions from industry sponsors, educators, and government can make a difference, with solid project management… a pearl, if you will, from a grain of sand.