A plan to repopulate the dirty waters off Brooklyn with oysters was foiled — err soiled — by the harbor’s abundant silt, which clogged baskets that housed the bivalves and claimed the lives of hundreds of mollusks.
Poorly designed oyster containers allowed silt and aquatic crud to cover the mollusks over the past five months, bringing a sad — if not ironic — death to the shellfish spat that were deposited off Sunset Park last year in hopes that they would one-day clean the filthy waters.
“As water flowed through the basket, the silt in the water settled,” explained experiment organizer Bart Chezar in a written statement after his crew’s April 25 dive. “I do not think the seed oysters and oyster spat survived.”
So much silt accumulated that the containers that were supposed to float actually sunk — but the scientist remains confident that the so-called “Bay Ridge Flats” might one-day host a thriving oyster bed.
“The design [failure] doesn’t answer the question of whether the oysters would have [survived],” wrote Chezar, who added that mussels seemed to be thriving on the sea floor beside the silt-filled baskets.
As a result, Chezar and his team aren’t giving up.
The researchers are planning to build two new cages with larger openings that will house seed oysters about eight inches above the sea floor, as well as an exposed wire contraption upon which spat oysters on shells will be attached with plastic ties.
“These designs shouldn’t restrict the flow of water as much,” said Chezar, who is planning a May 31 dive to recover the original containers and deposit the new cages.
News of the benthic catastrophe comes just months after divers discovered what seemed to be encouraging signs from the shallows near the mouth of the Gowanus Canal, where Chezar’s team observed that some mollusks had grown a whopping five millimeters in a single month!
The researchers hope their experiment will prove that oysters can again thrive in New York harbor, where they once played a critical environmental — and culinary — role before over-harvesting and over-pollution reduced their dominance.