Dyson’s Environmental Policy Clinicians Offer Support to the Billion Oyster Project
How are Pace students helping to clean the water in New York Harbor? New York City and Pleasantville Environmental Policy student clinicians recently visited Governor’s Island to get a first-hand look at how their policy work affects non-profits like the Billion Oyster Project, a NYC-based ecosystem restoration and education project. Environmental Policy Clinic students tackle real-world environmental issues by collaborating with regional organizations to design and implement policy reform.
Headquartered at the New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governor’s Island, the Billion Oyster Project aims to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor by 2030. Harbor School students cultivate oyster larvae, plant them in recycled oyster shells, and set them in the harbor, in hopes of repopulating oyster reefs which once spanned more than 220,000 acres of the Hudson River estuary. These native reefs filtered the water, provided habitat for marine species, and protected New York’s coastline from the potentially devastating forces of the waves. Overharvesting, dredging, and pollution left the reefs functionally extinct. In 2014, Pace partnered with the Billion Oyster Project to create a Pace STEM Collaboratory to facilitate interdisciplinary research. The STEM Collaboratory was made possible by a $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
During their visit, the Environmental Policy student clinicians aided the project by getting their hands dirty on the Harbor School’s eco-dock. The clinicians prepared the fertilized oysters for planting in the harbor by drilling holes in the shells and tagging them with the date of fertilization and the location of the larvae’s origin.
The clinicians also discussed some of the barriers, and how their policy work can help. Though it has gained momentum through community outreach and education, the Billion Oyster Project continues to function in a legal grey area, “All the laws and regulations about oysters were written around oyster harvesting, which hasn’t happened for decades. It’s an odd fit for an oyster restoration project,” explained John Cronin, senior fellow of environmental affairs and instructor of the Policy Clinic. “The goal of the clinic is to draft concrete legislation to define and encourage oyster restoration in New York State.”
Another issue is the harbor’s dividing line between New York and New Jersey. “On the New Jersey side, they’ve effectively banned oyster restoration,” explained Environmental Studies student Carl Wojciechowski ‘19. “We want to draft an executive order for Governor Cuomo to issue, making oyster restoration a policy of the state of New York in hopes that it might influence New Jersey.”
In response to the clinicians’ efforts, Billion Oyster Project co-founder Murray Fisher said, “We love it; it would change our work. Instead of having to convince legislatures and agencies that this is a good idea, they would be our partners in helping restore oysters. We’d be a tool to restore the ecosystem.”