Once, the waters around New York City were home to a thriving population of oysters and other sea life. Long story short, pollution killed the oysters off, and now the city is trying to convince shellfish to repopulate Jamaica Bay, the 31-square-mile expanse of water and wetlands not far from JFK airport.
The city’s latest enticement for oysters and their offspring? A field of broken toilets.
Over the past few years, a pilot project has showed that oysters can both survive and reproduce in Jamaica Bay, despite less than optimal conditions. The next step is to introduce more oysters to the bay, with the idea that more oysters could help limit erosion and improve water quality by naturally filtering pollutants out. If enough oysters thrive and reproduce, the bay could one day have a self-sustaining oyster population again.
To that end, the city and the non-profit Billion Oyster Project are introducing 50,000 additional oysters in Jamaica Bay. They’re creating one large “donor bed” and four “receiving beds.” It’s these smaller receiving beds that are made of old, inefficient toilets—5,000 of them, which were taken out of commission as part of a water conservation program.
The idea is that the grown-up oysters will spawn, and their baby oysters will need a place to grab onto. The receiving beds, a mixture of broken toilet and clam and oyster shells, will look, to them, like the perfect place to make a home.