Oysters and Teens: Today New York, Tomorrow, The World!

By Terry Ippolito

I have lived in New York City all my life and I’ve always known that the clams and oysters I sometimes see washing up at the beach should not be eaten. But that is starting to change! Someday you won’t have to imagine oysters growing and thriving in the harbor, because the oysters are getting help from students from the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School.

But, why are healthy oysters important in New York Harbor? They are pretty amazing creatures that help clean the water (they filter it while feeding) and they increase the diversity of the ecosystem. Oysters attract other living things, which take up residence on the oyster beds or feed on smaller animals that gather there.

And who are these high school students working with the oysters? They are Harbor School students and what they are doing is pretty remarkable. When you hear and see them talk about this project, you can tell they are really into it. Their high school, a New York City public school, is located on Governors Island in New York Harbor. Students are an important part of the Oyster Restoration Research Project. Harbor School teachers and students run the aquaculture lab and oyster nursery facility. The school’s SCUBA team takes part in reef installation work and performs data collection activities. Aquaculture, which involves breeding and harvesting oysters, is performed by students on the Governors Island Eco-dock. Students in the Advanced Vessel Operations Class serve as the crew on the boats involved in some of the dives.  This is the first project at Harbor School involving three Career and Tech Education classes (Aqua, SCUBA and Vessel Ops).

It is serious and exciting work. Students find themselves meeting challenges they never thought they would encounter. Like diving into cold harbor waters, in SCUBA gear of course, on a cold autumn morning. “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”, say many Harbor School students to sum up their take on that challenge.

This project has also inspired students. Alpha Francois, a senior at Harbor School, and a Wheaton College Posse Scholar, sums it up: “Oyster Restoration Research Project made me feel like I pioneered a powerful movement to change New York City, then change the world.” Watch out, world, these teens will make a difference!

About the author: Terry Ippolito has worked at EPA for 22 years. She is an Environmental Education Coordinator and is a former science educator. When she was 10 years old, Terry organized the kids on her block to do a clean up thus setting the stage for an interest in community and the environment. She lives in New York City and is still picking up litter on her way to the train in the morning.

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