Could Oysters Have Saved Us From Hurricane Sandy?

With Hurricane Sandy wiping out multiple websites, destroying cranes, flooding Atlantic City, and even causing devastating fires, the question has turned to whether this could have all been prevented. Not necessarily the hurricane itself (though Nathan Myrhvold probably has a solution), but the devastation it caused.

New York Times contributor Paul Greenberg proposes that it has something to do with the fact that there are no more oysters in New York. The ones in the ocean, not the ones you’re scarfing down at the John Dory:

Just as corals protect tropical islands, these oyster beds created undulation and contour on the harbor bottom that broke up wave action before it could pound the shore with its full force. Beds closer to shore clarified the water through their assiduous filtration (a single oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water a day); this allowed marsh grasses to grow, which in turn held the shores together with their extensive root structure.

But 400 years of poor behavior on the part of humans have ruined all that.

In short: centuries of overfishing, overeating, construction, and pollution nearly decimated the native wild New York oyster population, before government intervention and programs such as the Clean Water Act began restoring the species’ numbers. Greenberg thinks it’s impossible for the reefs to be fully restored in time to defend the city against other hurricanes, but urges people to use this example as food for thought — briny, raw, thoughts with a hint of lemon.


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