Information on COVID-19

Tenant Spotlight: Billion Oyster Project

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Governors Island’s location in the middle of New York Harbor makes it the ideal setting for initiatives that engage with the city’s waterways and champion New Yorkers’ relationships with their local waterfront. That’s one of the reasons Governors Island is home to the Billion Oyster Project (BOP), a nonprofit dedicated to restoring New York’s oyster population and, in doing so, cleaning up the waterways that allow the City’s residents — of all species — to thrive.

BOP research associates monitor an Oyster Research Station. Photo courtesy Billion Oyster Project

While Billion Oyster Project’s ‘field season’ runs from April through October, the organization operates year-round on Governors Island in two main offices. During warmer months on GI, BOP volunteers prepare oyster shells for use in manmade reefs, create new reefs from shells that nurture juvenile oysters (which grow, multiply, and clean the Harbor), and perform water quality assessments and reef checkups. In 2019, nearly 1,000 volunteers completed over 4,700 hours of work on BOP projects. Coordinating this remarkable effort requires a huge amount of preparation for the extensive lineup of programs during the field season, which features 3-5 volunteer events in a typical week. The off-season months are spent planning for the rest of the year’s projects and exploring new methods of growing oysters and introducing them to the Harbor. The current off-season will be BOP’s busiest yet; they’re planning to double their reef production in 2020, which means there’s even more preparation to be done this winter.

Headquartering on Governors Island provides BOP with opportunities for unique partnerships with other Island-based organizations. BOP works closely with Earth Matter, which operates the Compost Learning Center in the Urban Farm, to process empty oyster shells recycled by Island Oyster. After processing by Earth Matter, the shells are cured in BOP’s Shell Curing Site before being used in new reefs. In 2019, Earth Matter delivered over 75,000 lbs of shells to BOP for curing. The Shell Curing Site also collects shells from restaurants across the five boroughs, which are all hand-processed by BOP volunteers. To date, over one million pounds of shells have been cured by BOP on Governors Island.

BOP volunteers process oyster shells at the Shell Curing Site on Governors Island. Photo courtesy Con Edison

BOP also works extensively with another Governors Island tenant, the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School. The Harbor School, a 550-student high school, offers a maritime vocational curriculum across seven areas of specialized study, all of which make use of the Harbor as a classroom. BOP supports these programs by bringing in industry specialists to share their knowledge, like BOP staff diver Zoë Greenberg who leads students on scientific dives around the Harbor. BOP staff members also help run after-school programs like the Welding Club, Waterfront Club, and Aquaponics Club. On Fridays, students from all seven specialized tracks meet for BOP’s Harbor Corps, where they share their current studies and work together on initiatives to support the organization’s mission. Many Harbor School students continue their involvement with BOP outside the school year through summer internships.

A Harbor School student displays BOP reef-grown oysters. Photo by Rebecca Resner, courtesy Billion Oyster Project

With a mission to clean New York Harbor and restore its biodiversity, where better for Billion Oyster Project to make their home than right in its heart? By locating their headquarters on Governors Island, BOP gains valuable and unique partnerships, space to operate their extensive programs, and unparalleled access to the largest single feature in the City’s vast marine ecosystem all year long. With Billion Oyster Project’s expertise and hard work leading the way, New York Harbor will be bursting with bivalves in no time.

To learn more about Billion Oyster Project, visit their website, follow them on Instagram and Twitter, or pay them a visit when Governors Island reopens to the public this spring.