Reducing Our Risk

Billion Oyster Project, New York Harbor Foundation

Entry Overview

As climate change continues to be a worldwide issue, the environmental community is researching many tools to reduce our risk. The Billion Oyster Project (BOP) is a long-term, large-scale plan to restore one billion live oysters to New York Harbor over the next twenty years and in the process educate thousands of young people in the Metropolitan area about the ecology and economy of their local marine environment. To date we have grown 11.5 million oysters, collected 50 tons of oyster shells from local restaurants and engaged 4,000 public school students in the project. BOP was also on the team chosen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, as part of its Rebuild by Design competition, to receive a $60 million grant to implement the Living Breakwaters project off the coast of Staten Island. As a direct response to the damage suffered in Superstorm Sandy, the project aims to reduce risk, revive ecologies, and connect communities to the shoreline, inspiring a new generation of harbor stewards and a more resilient region.

General Info
Email :
Organization Address: 
Governors Island, 10 South Street, Slip 7
New York, New York 10004
United States
Population Impacted: 
370,000 (Population in Zone 1)
Storm Surge
Identify the likelihood and frequency of this hazard : 
There have been an increasing number of these events in recent years. It is expected that storms will intensify as global climate continues to change. This along with the predicted rise in sea level means that these events will become more regular and more damaging, particularly to those who live in the flood zone (Zone 1).
Explain how vulnerable the community is to this hazard: 
New Yorkers are extremely vulnerable to damage from storm surge waters. Before Superstorm Sandy devastated the region, New Yorkers had little connection to the water that surrounds Manhattan and little knowledge that the waterfront could easily suffer damaging surges. Experts estimate that the future will bring even more damaging storms and rising sea levels—the waterfront is being developed for expanded use for parks, housing and economic development—a dangerous combination without action.
List the potential affects of this hazard: 
Superstorm Sandy caused close to $62 billion in damage and at the height of the storm over 7.5 million people were without power. The surge damaged hundreds of homes and businesses, shut down subways and roadway tunnels, and put countless lives at risk. With the redevelopment of the waterfront for easier public access, coupled with rising sea levels, the effects from a future storm could prove to be greater than any we’ve seen.
Identify how sensitive the community is to these affects: 
The community is highly sensitive to the above effects. The bones of New York City are its public transportation system and the city nearly shut down without it. In addition to the transportation system, New Yorker’s livelihood depends on the safety of their homes, businesses and persons.
Preparedness Goal: 
BOP is educating NY’ers about the ecosystem in which we live. A more informed community equals a more resilient community.
Implementing Actions: 

This past year, the National Science Foundation awarded a $5 million grant to fund a project entitled BOP Curriculum and Community Enterprise for New York Harbor Restoration in New York City Public Schools (BOP Schools). This exciting initiative is a partnership with leading institutions including PACE University, NYC Department of Education, Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory, New York Academy of Sciences, University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, and others and will train NYC educators about the importance of the rich estuary that surrounds us. By working to train teachers, BOP is setting up a sustainable and long-term solution to getting public school students involved in the restoration of their local marine environment. In addition to middle school students, BOP relies on students from New York Harbor School’s six Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs of study in marine science and technology to work collaboratively to carry out this project. Aquaculture students grow oysters for the project and maintain the nurseries; Vessel Operations students navigate boats to oyster reefs at various locations in New York Harbor; Professional Diving students conduct dives to plant oysters and monitor the reefs; Marine Biology Research students carry out environmental assessment around the reefs; Ocean Engineering students work to develop and run remotely operated vehicles that aid in tracking the progress of the reef and nursery sites; and Marine Systems Technology students maintain the boats and build a portion of the infrastructure used in these activities. New York City is investing billions of dollars over the next decade to rebuild the waterfront, improve shoreline protection and mitigate environmental issues. This investment is creating demand for jobs in these emergent marine fields. BOP is training students in the skills needed to go onto careers as scientists, engineers, aquaculturists, vessel operators, scuba divers and marine systems technicians.

Describe Your Solution: 

New York City is undergoing an ecological renaissance and leading the way towards becoming one of the most sustainable large cities in the world. And yet its Harbor – the geographic and biological system that is responsible for this city’s founding, its growth and its sustenance– has long been neglected. For thousands of years, hundreds of square miles of oyster reefs dominated the rich estuary ecosystem that surrounded New York City. These oysters are virtually gone. The Billion Oyster Project is an ecosystem restoration and education project aimed at restoring one billion live oysters to New York Harbor and engaging hundreds of thousands of school children through restoration based STEM education programs. Restoring one billion live oysters into New York Harbor is a crucial step towards estuary restoration and proactive planning for global climate change. Students at Harbor School have been growing and restoring oysters in New York Harbor for the last six years. They have learned to SCUBA dive safely, raise oyster larvae, operate and maintain vessels, build and operate commercial-scaled oyster nurseries, design underwater monitoring equipment and conduct long-term authentic research projects all in the murky, contaminated, fast moving waters of one of the busiest ports in the country. Through the recent grant from the National Science Foundation, thousands of students will participate in these learning opportunities and one hundred teachers at fifty schools will have access to this program over the next five years. The biggest takeaway from Superstorm Sandy was that New Yorkers were not prepared for a natural disaster of that scope. BOP is connecting New Yorkers to the Harbor that our city depends on; we are training our youth to take action; and most importantly, we are taking a proactive and creative approach to addressing climate change and reducing our risk for the future.


In addition to school children and educators, BOP partners with the restaurant community. Nine restaurants recycle their oyster shells and put them aside for weekly collections, with plans to expand to 30 restaurants over the next 5 years. By picking up the oyster shells, not only are we making an environmental impact through recycling, but also an economic impact by reducing the cost each restaurant pays for waste. On a long-term scale, BOP is helping to increase the economic health of New York City by training the future workforce in blue infrastructure.


Oysters are the keystone species and original ecosystem engineer of New York Harbor. Oyster reefs once covered more than 220,000 acres of the estuary and hundreds of miles of shoreline. At this scale, oysters provided massive ecological benefits including continuous water filtration, habitat for thousands of marine species, and wave attenuation during storm events. Over time, oysters became functionally extinct in the Harbor as a result of overharvesting, dredging and pollution. Today, the Harbor is becoming safe and clean enough to host a wide variety of marine life but assistance like BOP is needed to jump-start the restoration process.


Through BOP we are not only building a richer, more productive and more protective Harbor, but we are creating an engaged generation of public school children with the skills and ethics of authentic scientific inquiry and environmental stewardship as well as the confidence that comes with being valued and leaving their mark on the City and its Harbor. In addition to engaging and educating students, we are connecting the New York community at large with the Harbor and expanding social resiliency because a more informed community equals a more resilient community

What were the negative or unintended impacts (if any) associated with implementing this solution? : 


Return on Investment: How much did it cost to implement these activities? How do your results above compare to this investment?: 

To date, $415,000 has been spent to implement the activities of the Billion Oyster Project. When looking at the overall economic, environmental and social benefits of the project, the return on investment is very positive. In addition the direct benefits of the program, the activities of BOP can also be used as a case study and model for replication in other cities, thus heightening the ROI.

What are the main factors needed to successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?: 

Every city in the world lies on or near a degraded natural system. In many of these cities, schools struggle to meaningfully engage students in their studies. Activating this resource by entrusting the future ecological health of these systems to these students is a powerful tool for preparing students for college and careers in emerging industries. If BOP can restore oysters to New York Harbor and engage public school students in rigorous learning opportunities that meet standards, it will have created a model that is replicable in any coastal city in the world. BOP has received increasing public support and awareness with President Bill Clinton visiting Harbor School on the first day of the school year. BOP was started from a Clinton Global Initiative commitment and the former President has included BOP in many of his public speeches, remarking during one that, “There should be a school like this [Harbor School], with a project like this [BOP] in every coastal city in the world.” By using BOP as a case study and utilizing the tools BOP has created, cities around the world can replicate the work being done to restore and protect New York Harbor.

Contest Info
Contest Name: 
Reducing Our Risk

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