Billion Oyster Project Is Working to Restore NY Harbor’s Marine Ecosystem

by Cameron St. Germain

Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

What they do: Billion Oyster Project’s (BOP) long-term, large-scale plan is to restore a sustainable oyster population and to reconnect New Yorkers to their Harbor by engaging them directly in the work of restoring one billion oysters. In the process, BOP is working educate thousands of young people in the Metropolitan area about the ecology of their local marine environment.

Why oysters? Restoring oysters and reefs will restore the local marine ecosystem’s natural mechanisms for maintaining itself, resulting in cleaner water and greater biodiversity. To date, the Billion Oyster Project has restored 24 million oysters to NY Harbor!

How they do it: The hands-on science of reef construction and monitoring is executed through in-school, restoration based education, citizen science, restaurant shell collection and volunteer programs.

The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School is BOP’s flagship school. Students at New York Harbor School are instrumental to the work of the BOP.  Harbor School students enroll in one of seven career and technical education (CTE) programs of study including Aquaculture, Vessel Operations, Marine Biology Research, Professional Diving, Ocean Engineering, Marine Policy, and Marine Systems Technology. Each CTE program has a role within the Billion Oyster Project that extends students’ education from the classroom into a real-world context. In addition to Harbor School, over 60 public schools have partnered with the project to provide authentic, place-based science and math lessons through the lens of oyster restoration. Each year, thousands of students participate in these learning opportunities.

Mission: “The mission of Billion Oyster Project is to restore a sustainable oyster population and to reconnect New Yorkers to their Harbor by engaging them directly in the work of restoring one billion oysters.”

Latest project/campaign: Through an award from the Governors Office of Storm Recovery, Billion Oyster Project recently received funding to develop educational programming and in-water community restoration research projects in portions of Brooklyn affected by Hurricane Sandy.

Major Funding: 

  • NYS Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery
  • National Science Foundation
  • Simons Foundation
  • NYC Department of Environmental Protection
  • The 1772 Foundation
  • New York City Council
  • Overbrook Foundation
  • RBC Foundation
  • McCance Foundation Trust
  • NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Hudson River Foundation
  • Stephenson Pope Babcock Foundation

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $4,000,000 (2017-18)

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: BOP works with 70 restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn to reduce waste! To date, the Billion Oyster Project Shell Collection Program has collected over 700,000 lbs. of oyster shells for reuse that would’ve otherwise been discarded. BOP uses oyster shells as a reef and growing substrate for oyster larvae. BOP is currently working on a bill with a Manhattan middle school and Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal to offer a tax incentive for restaurants donating shells for restoration use.

One important note is that BOP’s oysters are not for consumption. That being said, we do encourage diners to eat oysters at participating restaurants so that we can collect more shell!



Mailing Address: 10 South St., Slip 7, NY, NY 10004

Site Address: The MAST Center, Governors Island, NYC

Core Programs:

  • Shell Collection Program
  • Oyster Production
  • Reef Construction and Monitoring
  • Public Engagement Program
  • BOP Schools Program

Number of staff: 25

Number of volunteers: 600+ per year

Areas served:

  • Bronx
  • Brooklyn
  • Manhattan
  • Queens
  • Staten Island

Year Started: 2014

Executive Director: Peter Malinowski

Contact Information:

Photo credit: Billion Oyster Project

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