Ocean Currents » clean water http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:00:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Harbor Heroes: Little Oysters in the Big Apple http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/01/harbor-heroes-little-oysters-in-the-big-apple/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/08/01/harbor-heroes-little-oysters-in-the-big-apple/#comments Thu, 01 Aug 2013 17:45:35 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6435

This post was written by Ocean Conservancy intern Jaclyn Yeary.

After Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last October, I read an op-ed by Paul Greenberg in the New York Times titled “An Oyster in the Storm” that inspired me. In his piece, he described how oysters can be used to protect the shorelines of our coastal cities while improving the water quality of America’s largest metropolis. The solution to two major issues seemed suddenly so obvious. I needed to learn more.

So I partnered with a friend to produce a short documentary titled “Harbor Heroes” about the importance of oysters to New York City. We interviewed an amazing group of individuals including students from the aquaculture program at the New York Harbor School, Philippe Cousteau and Paul Greenberg himself.

How do oysters help water quality?

The idea behind restoring New York’s oysters is this: oysters grow on top of one another, forming nurseries for baby fish and creating a base structure for reefs. Reefs act as natural surge protectors and reduce the size of waves during big storms. Like other mollusks, oysters are filter-feeders, which means they clean the water column as they eat. If the water quality improves enough, sea grass could grow and create a root network that would prevent the erosion of the shoreline.

The history of the New York City half shell

One of my favorite aspects of the solution presented by Greenberg is that oysters are an important part of New York’s history. Mark Kurlansky’s book, “The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell,” outlines the history of New York City through the growth of the oyster industry.

At one time, half the world’s oysters were found in New York. Liberty Island and Ellis Island were once called “Little” and “Big Oyster Island,” respectively. But as the city grew, more and more people began harvesting them. And with the Industrial Revolution, more and more chemicals were being dumped into the harbor. People began getting sick from eating contaminated shellfish, so they stopped growing oysters. The few that remained died out until the population completely disappeared.

Since the introduction of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the waters surrounding New York have improved. Today, they are clean enough to support oysters again, though it will be a while before anyone actually wants to eat them. Various groups, including the New York/New Jersey Baykeeper and the New York Harbor School have begun planting oysters in the Hudson.

Where are we today?

The plan isn’t perfect, and it isn’t without challenges. Some officials worry poachers will eat oysters from the contaminated water and cause a public health outbreak. Additionally, ocean acidification is an ever-growing threat to shellfish and corals. As the ocean absorbs more carbon, they become more acidic. This is problematic for oysters because the changing chemistry of the ocean means shell-building animals have trouble building the shells necessary for their survival.

But some states are taking action. For instance, Washington has turned oyster beds around the state into ocean acidification monitoring stations. Scientists can collect data on the water’s pH levels around the state and record their effects on the shellfish industry.

In New York City, if this multi-faceted solution is implemented as part of a larger plan to protect and restore New York’s waters, oysters have the potential to positively impact a variety of sectors including the environment, education and local economy.

 

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When It Comes to the Ocean’s Health Report Card, Let’s Set the Curve! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/28/when-it-comes-to-the-oceans-health-report-card-lets-set-the-curve/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/28/when-it-comes-to-the-oceans-health-report-card-lets-set-the-curve/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2012 16:47:16 +0000 Anna Zivian http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2511

What does a healthy ocean look like? The Ocean Index brings together scientific data on everything from coral to the economics of coastal communities to answer this critical question. Credit: Arthur Koch

At Ocean Conservancy, we often get asked “How is the ocean doing?” That straightforward question is actually quite difficult to answer. This vast resource, our planet’s life support system, faces many complex challenges. Quantifying them is no easy matter.

The new Ocean Index  announced in Nature is one way to assess and compare the health of ocean ecosystems across different countries. To date, there’s been no comprehensive source that brings together all manner of ocean-related research in one place. The Index is a good starting point.

Sixty-five scientists and other experts worked together to create this tool. They use a series of indicators to measure ten goals important to us all, including

The Index looks at the current status for each, as well as the likely scenario for sustainability into the future. Overall, the health of the ocean received a score of 60 out of 100. The United States is in the middle of the pack with a score of 63. 

Obviously, that leaves lots of room for improvement. On the other hand, it also means that there are several things that the U.S. is doing well. In fact, the paper calls out the National Ocean Policy for focusing on “…using comprehensive ecosystem-based management to address the needs of both humans and nature.”

The Index provides a solid basis for discussion, helping demonstrate how the decisions we make matter to our health and wellbeing, and showing us where to focus on solutions.

For instance, the goal of clean waters gets a global score of 78. The Ocean Index takes into account research on all kinds of impacts on water quality, from excess nutrients to oil spills and ocean trash.

Or take a look at coastal protection, which covers habitats like mangroves that protect our shores from storms: 73. Not so bad, but not where we want to be, either.
Putting together scientific information about concerns like habitat destruction and chemical pollution alongside key information like the cost of storm damage to coastal communities can boost the success of ocean conservation work.

The Ocean Index also shows how crowded the ocean really is, and how many different sectors rely on its resources, which is why we need smart ocean planning, (among other objectives listed in the National Ocean Policy), to help make smart choices when it comes to how our ocean is used.

As we move forward with the National Ocean Policy, we can use this collective scientific information in the Ocean Index to help make better decisions for the health of our coasts, ocean and communities. Working together, we can move to the head of the class.

Check back on The Blog Aquatic tomorrow for further analysis of the Ocean Health index from my colleague George Leonard.

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