New York is my oyster

United Kingdom (New York)

An unlikely hero – the oyster – is set to revitalise New York City’s polluted waterways. To improve the city’s harbour’s water quality, the founder of environmentally focused landscape architecture firm Scape is planning to tap into the mollusc’s natural ability to filter.

Kate Orff’s marine gardening project takes advantage of the oyster’s built-in filtration system. An adult oyster can process up to a massive 50 gallons of water a day, pumping it through their bodies, extracting nutrients and nitrogen pollution. By constructing underwater living reefs made from a woven web of ‘fuzzy rope’ built into a rich three-dimensional landscape mosaic, millions of oysters and blue mussels can settle in and conduct their business. Kate calls this ‘Oyster-tecture’.

Already an over an acre of reef has been restored and, in a few years the harbour’s water quality will be evaluated and the city should greenlight her proposal for a 200-acre marine park in New York Harbour. China and Europe are also interested in implementing Oyster-tecture. Scape’s design-research has expanded to inform multiple ongoing projects, including the large-scale ecological infrastructure proposal Living Breakwaters and our linear waterfront park at Red Hoek Point.

Oyster reef beds could create better habitats for wildlife and even weaken waves to reduce the damage from storm surges. Eventually the oysters could be edible, maybe turning New York back into a destination for the delicacy, as it was in the eighties: “Instead of hot dog stands, oyster carts used to line the streets of Manhattan,” Kate says.

AtlasAction: Learn more about Scape, who create positive change in communities by combining regenerative living infrastructure and new forms of public space.

Written by

Gaby Bastyra (03 September 2015)


Gaby is a wildlife documentary producer with broadcast credits on BBC, National Geographic, Discovery and PBS.

Project leader

Kate Orff, Founder, Scape

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