No, we're not talking about oysters to eat. In fact, not eating oysters might have been key. Paul Greenberg over at The New York Times has a fascinating piece on how oysters used to shelter the Northeast shoreline by building enormous reefs underwater, holding the shores in place.
According to Greenberg, oysters used to pack the shoreline, as oysters layered over adult oysters for some 7,000 years, breaking up the waves before they hit the coast. "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," he writes.
Unfortunately, thanks to our forefathers eating a bit too many of these oysters, and the development of New York for road beds, most of these oysters are gone, which leaves our shores somewhat unprotected.
But there's good news, Greenberg says: Oysters might be making a comeback. With acts like the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, plus organizations like the Hudson River Foundation, New York oysters can now survive in the waterways, and test reefs are slowly growing. Let's just hope there's even more oysters on the shore the next time a storm comes through town. Head on over to the TImes for the full, fascinating read.