Tour of Billion Oyster Project Facilities on Governor's Island with Blyss Buitrago

On Sunday, July 30, the MSNH took the ferry to Governor's Island to learn about oysters and see the Billion Oyster Project facilities with Blyss Buitrago, the Public Engagement Manager for the New York Harbor Foundation. You can't live in New York City without knowing about oysters. Oysters are an integral part of NYC's history and once upon a time were as famous on the streets as hot dogs. However, due to pollution, overexploitation and habitat loss, their populations dramatically declined wiping them off the menus. Since their demise, conservation efforts have been made to restore their populations and the Billion Oyster Project (BOP), part of the New York Harbor Foundation, is one of the key projects working on this and focuses on ecosystem restoration and reintroduction of one billion oysters into New York Harbor, while engaging New Yorkers in every step of the process. 

While on the tour, we learned how oysters are keystone species meaning that they are crucial to ecosystem health as they provide habitat for many other marine organisms and also help filter the water from pollution. BOP is reintroducing oysters into NYC harbor through different techniques. For example, oyster larvae prefer to attach themselves to other oysters when they settle down to grow, so BOP places shells of dead oysters in NYC harbor to help build oyster beds. Shells originate mainly from NYC restaurants which partner with BOP to recycle this food waste. BOP also continuously monitors water quality to keep tabs on ecosystem health.

BOP focuses on public education and outreach and throughout the year and engages hundreds of NYC students and volunteers in their restoration projects so that they can immerse them into learning about, protecting and restoring their local habitat.

Blyss Buitrago is the Public Engagement Manager for the New York Harbor Foundation. Raised in Jamaica, Queens with JFK as her local inaccessible waterfront, Blyss developed a deep curiosity for the ocean from a young age. Exposure to New England's fishery culture ignited her passion to conserve our natural environment studying Marine Science (B.S) at Boston University. Realizing the importance of local knowledge in conservation led her across the world to Australia to study Marine Protected Area Management (MSc.) at James Cook University. As the Public Engagement Manager with the Billion Oyster Project, Blyss passionately works to create unique opportunities for urban communities to become stewards of their marine backyard

To see more photos from this event check out our gallery. Photo credit goes to Maurice Chen and Julius Chen.

Sign up for the BOP newsletter (scroll down to bottom of their homepage to find the entry form), if you would like to hear about events, volunteer opportunities, and updates!

For additional resources about oysters, please check out:

A video about BOP's work released by the National Science Foundation.

The Big Oyster by Mark Kurlansky (who also wrote Salt which focuses on the cod fishery collapse).

American Catch by Paul Greenberg.

Or learn more about oyster biology by checking out this fact sheet produced by South Carolina state Department of Natural Resources.