Bronx River

Sea Farming Shellfish and Seaweed in Long Island Sound

Local students, through a program with Rocking the Boat a nonprofit community development organization, helping to set up the shellfish and seaweed raft off of Hunts Point in the Bronx.

By Mark Tedesco

The theory behind the martial art of Jiu Jitsu is to use an attacker’s force against him or herself.   What if the same theory can be applied to pollutants that degrade coastal water quality?  An innovative project just offshore of where the Bronx River empties into western Long Island Sound is doing just that.

Shellfish and seaweed suspension raft off the Bronx River

There on a raft anchored about 20 meters offshore, not far from the Hunts Point market, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Connecticut, and Purchase College are studying a pilot sea farm of shellfish and seaweed.  Students from the South Bronx community are maintaining the sea farm through involvement of Rocking the Boat, a nonprofit community development organization.  The seaweed and shellfish (ribbed mussels) grow by absorbing and filtering nutrients from the water.  When harvested, the nutrients they contain are taken out of the water.  As a result, sea farming of shellfish and seaweed could be a powerful tool in cleaning up nutrient-enriched waters.

While nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus are essential for the growth of plants and animals, in excess they can overwhelm coastal waters, resulting in poor visibility, low oxygen levels, and loss of healthy wetlands and sea grasses. Through the Long Island Sound Study, EPA and the states of New York and Connecticut are taking action to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound by reducing the amount of nitrogen entering Long Island Sound by 60 percent, mainly by upgrading wastewater treatment plants and controlling fertilizer-laden stormwater runoff. Enhancing sea farming of shellfish and seaweeds in Long Island Sound can complement nutrient control strategies as part of a comprehensive clean water strategy.  The pilot study is evaluating a range of potential markets for the harvest, from seafood for human consumption to agricultural feeds, from biofuels to pharmaceutical products.

The project has caught the interest of the CNN and the New York Times.  If successful, the expansion of sea farming of shellfish and seaweed can mean more jobs, cleaner water, and local quality products.

About the author: Mark Tedesco is director of the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Long Island Sound Office.  The office coordinates the Long Island Sound Study, administered by EPA as part of the National Estuary Program under the Clean Water Act. Mr. Tedesco is responsible for supporting implementation of a Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for Long Island Sound, approved in 1994 by the by the Governors of New York and Connecticut and the EPA Administrator,  in cooperation with federal, state, and local government, private organizations, and the public.  Mr. Tedesco has worked for EPA for 25 years.  He received his M.S. in marine environmental science in 1986 and a B.S in biology in 1982 from Stony Brook University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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New Life for the Bronx and Harlem Rivers

By Cyndy Kopitsky

EPA and the U.S. Department of the Interior have identified the Bronx and the Harlem Rivers as two priority areas in New York. As a result, exciting things are happening! But, first a little geography lesson.

The Bronx River, the only fresh water in New York City, is approximately 24 miles long and flows through southeast New York State.  The Harlem River is a navigable tidal strait in New York City that flows eight miles between the Hudson River and the East River.  The Harlem River is spanned by seven swing bridges, three lift bridges and four arch bridges.  The Harlem River forms a part of the Hudson estuary system, serving as a narrow strait that divides the island of Manhattan from the Bronx.

Three of the bridges that cross the Harlem River are: the High Bridge (a now-closed pedestrian bridge); the Alexander Hamilton Bridge (part of Interstate 95); and the Washington Bridge. In this photo, looking north, the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan is on the left and the Bronx is on the right.

Here’s where the fun comes in – in an effort to improve water quality, make public access safe and restore the watersheds and ecosystems, federal and local partners have initiated a number of projects.  I am always inspired to see when there is success in our “urban” community activities that manage to span from the Long Island Sound to the Delaware Estuary and across the east coast to the Caribbean, all contributing to the partnership.

One is the Bronx Youth Urban Forestry Empowerment program for low-income and minority youth which was created in partnership by “Trees of NY” and the USDA Forest Service. This project provides underserved youth from the Bronx sustained, hands-on education in tree care, tree identification, tree pit gardening, tree inventory and park land habitat restoration, outdoor recreational activities and two service learning projects.

The oyster population, once plentiful, has suffered a major decline due to pollution.  Improvement has been seen in the last 10 years although they remain unsafe to eat. Oysters play a major role in filtering and help to create a better habitat.  Many federal and local agencies are working in partnership to create an oyster reef, a better place for oysters to live.  I have a special interest in this type of project and I hope to be able to visit the area, not far from my home town.

The Park Service, the Harlem River Working Group and city and state agencies are working to develop a greenway along the Bronx side of the Harlem River and are planning to increase access which is currently limited along both rivers.

The EPA NY/NJ Harbor Estuary Program is funding an effort to design plans for passage of migratory fish at two Bronx River dams and The Harlem River Working Group is planning a big event at Roberto Clemente State Park (RCSP) October 15th – 20th.  The main goal is to highlight the fact the RCSP is the ONLY point on the Bronx side of the Harlem River that has the immediate potential to provide boating access to the river.  The National Park Service will be providing a small amount of funding to help with programming the event and the State is on board to provide logistical support and host the event. The plan is to get 500 to 600 Bronx students out on the river Monday through Friday and then hold a community-wide celebration that Saturday.  Several of us have been invited to talk with the Park Service about ways to assure a large turn-out at this upcoming event.

All in all, lots of activity in support of these two important urban waterways. For more information, visit

About the Author: Cyndy Kopitsky is the Urban Waters Program Coordinator out of EPA’s office in Manhattan. In this capacity Cyndy works closely with the EPA Region 2 staff and managers to engage them in the Urban Water Program activities which include a grant program and the pilot projects. The pilot projects are often cooperative efforts with other federal agencies. Cyndy is a far commuter and resident of Cape May County in the southern most point of New Jersey. With her background in advertising and environmental education, working with communities for Cyndy is a “natural fit.”

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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