Oyster Houses, South Street and Pike Slip, Manhattan by Berenice Abbott. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1937.


New York harbor was once blanketed with an estimated 350 square miles of oyster beds. In early New York history, local oysters were world-renowned. From Blue Points to Saddle Rocks, if you wanted succulent oysters, NYC was the place to be.

Oyster Stands In Fulton Market, by Waud, Alfred R. (Alfred Rudolph) (1828-1891). The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1870.


Pearl Street was paved with oyster shells, Ellis and Liberty islands were surrounded by abundant oyster beds spurring the early Dutch settlers coined them “Little Oyster Island” and “Great Oyster Island”.

Liberty Island was once known as Great Oyster Island. (PD)


Sewage pollution made the oysters too toxic to eat and by 1927, the last of the New York oyster beds closed.

Oyster bed close-up. USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency photo. (PD)


Now, the Billion Oyster Project  together with the New York Harbor School is working to help repair the ecosystem of New York Harbor, by revitalizing New York Harbor’s oyster population. Filter-feeding oysters help clean the water and absorb excess nitrogen, provide protective habitat and help to protect our shores from destructive wave action.


To date the Billion Oyster Project has :

  • Restored 6,000,000 oysters
  • Filtered 19.7 trillion gallons of water
  • Removed 72,500 pounds of Nitrogen
  • Reclaimed and recycled 250,350 pounds of oyster shell

Want to get involved?
Restaurants give up your shells!…  teachers and students – join the citizen-science teams!…  or help raise baby oysters!


posted by Mai Armstrong for the Working Harbor Committee