Restoring New York City
Proposals for Improving Ecological and Human Health
Edited by Dr. James A. Danoff-Burg
Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, Columbia University

Projects Available
East River Oyster Beds - Manhattan, Brooklyn, & Queens, NYC

Project Home

Listed By Borough
Listed By Ecosystem

Bayside Acacia Cemetery
Central Park's North End
East River Oyster Beds
Fresh Creek Marshland
Governors Island
Harlem River Yards
Inwood Forests
Inwood Marsh & Nature Center
Manhattan Forests
Manhattan Marsh Re-creation
Manhattan Maritime Holly Forest
Northern Manhattan Forests
Operation Renovo Gardens
Rockaway Beach
Time Capsule NYC
West Harlem Marshlands

Oyster and Oyster Reef Restoration in the East River

Susan Hua



The purpose of this project is to restore ecosystem health [1] and enhance ecosystem function in the East River through an adaptive management plan [2] for oyster (specifically, the eastern oyster-Crassostrea virginica [3]) and oyster reef restoration.  If restoration efforts in the East River are successful, the project should be expanded to encompass other areas in the Hudson River Estuary.  This proposal begins by looking at the East River’s background and examines how historical land and water use has contributed to its current ecological problems.  The second section discusses the benefits of oyster reef restoration for the East River and examines some of the potential challenges to this project.  Finally, the third section outlines the project’s goals and objectives and provides a time line for the first year of the project.  


1. Introduction to the East River


1.1. Historical background

The East River is a tidal strait that connects the Upper Bay (mouth of the Hudson River) and the Long Island Sound (D’Elia 2006).  It was formed about 11,000 years ago with the melting of the Wisconsin glacier (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005). Hell Gate marks a division between the upper and lower portions of the strait: the especially turbulent water—in addition to the jagged reefs found in this area—presented a dangerous obstacle for early mariners (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005).  As a part of the Hudson River estuary, the East River’s brackish water is important as habitat for many wildlife species and as a passageway for migratory fish (USACE 2004). 


In its primordial state, the East River was lined with mudflats, salt marshes, and other wetlands.  Native Americans settled along the East River and depended on its fish stocks and wetland ecosystems for survival (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005).  Excavated shell piles indicate that oysters were an important source of food for the Native Americans (NY/NJ Baykeeper 2005a).  Native trees were used to build their longhouses and canoes (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al.2005).  Their settlements, fishing camps, and planting fields spanned from the Battery in Manhattan to Castle Hill, Clasons Point, and Throgs Neck in the Bronx.  On Long Island, they occupied areas from Bridge Street in Brooklyn, to Maspeth, Pot Cove, and Flushing in Queens (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005).


The first significant European settlements were established in the 1600’s with the arrival of the Dutch (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005). They established farmland along the strait (USACE 2004) and harvested salt meadow grass in the fall to feed their cattle during the winter (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005).  A ferry ran between Manhattan and Brooklyn and by 1647, the first East River pier was built at Pearl Street (Greater Astoria Historical society et al. 2005).   When England gained possession of New York in the late 1600’s, they encouraged more waterfront development by selling offshore water plots and invested in wharf development (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005).  Like the Native Americans, the colonists regarded oysters as an important food source, especially during wintertime: in 1715, oyster harvest between May and August was prohibited (Waldman 1999).   


After the Revolutionary War, the Hudson River Valley quickly became industrialized.  During the 1800’s, farmland and forest were converted into residential and industrial areas and freshwater tributaries were filled or converted into sewers (USACE 2004).  Randall’s Island and Ward’s Island on the East River were used as garbage dumps, cemeteries, and housing for the poor (USACE).  Due to their isolated nature, other islands on the East River became sites for disease quarantine, prisons, and psychiatric wards (Greater Astoria Historical Society et al. 2005).  Not only was the strait seen as a repository for society’s social outcasts, it was also a repository for industrial waste (Greater Astoria Society 2005).  New York Harbor became a key port for the oil industry; additionally, imported agricultural products were treated and refined on the East River banks.  Petroleum spills and industrial waste degraded the estuarine ecosystems (Greater Astoria Historical Society 2005).  As New York Harbor became home to one of the world’s busiest seaports, dredging became necessary so that larger vessels could navigate through the estuary (Yozzo et al. 2004).  Unsurprisingly, New York Harbor’s oyster industry quickly declined throughout the 1800’s (Waldman 1999) and was closed in the 1920’s (NY/NJ Baykeeper 2005a). 


Today, land along the East River consists of commercial, industrial, and residential areas.  Over the past 40 years, maritime activity has declined. The East River waterfront along Lower Manhattan had more than 40 piers during the 1950’s; at this time, fewer than 10 piers remain (DCP 2006).  Four power plants and six sewer treatment plants are located along the East River.  Water from the East River is used as cooling water at the power plants.  Although the capacity for wastewater treatment has improved significantly, combined sewage overflow is still a problem (USACE 2004).  These various anthropogenic activities along and in the East River (as well as other parts of the Hudson River Estuary) have caused great consequences for its ecosystem.      


1.2. Current conditions and status

Temperature estuaries, like the East River, suffer from a range of ecological problems including increased sedimentation and turbidity, greater episodes of hypoxia or anoxia, loss of sea grasses and dominant suspension feeders, a general loss of oyster reef habitat, shifts from ecosystems dominated by benthic primary production to those dominated by planktonic primary production, and fish kills (Jackson et al. 2001).  Excess nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) reach the East River through agricultural runoff and wastewater.  Increased nutrient loading leads to an increase in the rate of primary production and is the cause of many of the problems listed above (Kirby et al. 2005); these changes lead to shifts in community assemblages and ecosystem function. In a study conducted in the Hudson River Park’s sanctuary waters,[4] Bain et al. (2006) found great species richness and noted that the Harbor contained essentially all the fish species that would be found in a healthy mesohaline shoreline community; however, the ecosystem was dominated by fish species atypical for such habitat.  Species such as windowpane, killifishes, and silversides, were found in very low numbers; instead, the ecosystem was dominated by fish more typical of open coastal and estuary waters including bay anchovy, blueback herring, Atlantic herring, and striped bass (Bain et al. 2006).  The authors hypothesize that the Hudson River Park is deficient of the shallow and structured habitat common to estuary shorelines because most of the shoreline has been bulkheaded, which might have caused changes to the relative abundance of fish species (Bain et al. 2005).  Because the East River has undergone similar shoreline development[5], it is likely to have the same problem.   


Since the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act, the water quality in New York Harbor has improved (D’Elia 2006) .  Lower East River, which is considered as a part of the Inner Harbor[6] area by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP 2004), displays decreasing levels of fecal coliform and enterococci (see Appendix A), increasing levels of dissolved oxygen, and relatively stable levels of chlorophyll ‘a,’ which is used to gauge phytoplankton abundance and secchi transparency, which is used to estimate clarity.  The decline in fecal coliform levels has been attributed to the reduction of combined sewage overflows, the termination of dumping raw sewage into the water, and the elimination of illegal discharges into the water (NYCDEP 2004).  Upper East River, which is considered together with Western Long Island Sound[7], displays similar trends but has lower dissolved oxygen levels than the Lower East River (NYCDEP 2004).  New York City is making an attempt to further improve water quality.    


2. Oyster and Oyster Reef Restoration


Oysters used to be an ecologically important and prolific part of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary ecosystem.  Eastern oysters could be found from the southern limits of the Estuary up to Ossining, New York in the north.  As mentioned in the historical background, they were an important source of food for the Native Americans and colonists. At the end of the nineteenth century, oyster beds still occupied about 350 square miles of the Estuary (Waldman 1999).  Since then, oyster populations have plummeted to insignificant numbers (Yozzo et al. 2004) and although small populations can be found in parts of the estuary, they are unlikely to reach their historic levels without human intervention. Considering the recent improvement in the East River’s water quality, oyster reef restoration can be beneficial for the ecosystem.  This project would be in line with the goals of many local, state, and federal programs (see Appendix B).  NY/NJ Baykeeper has already attempted to restore oyster habitats in Liberty Flats in the Upper Bay, Keyport Harbor in the Raritan Bay, and Oyster Point in the Navesink River (NY/NJ Baykeeper 2005b).


2.1 Benefits for the East River (and Hudson River Estuary) ecosystem

Oysters are considered to be “ecosystem engineers” because of the multiple functions they perform to shape their environment (Brumbaugh et al. 2006).  These functions are important and beneficial to the East River’s ecosystem:    

  • Restored food web dynamics: Given the wide distribution of oyster reefs prior to the 20th Century, declines in oyster populations likely altered food-web dynamics.  Jackson et al. (2001) examine the changes in estuarine habitats from a top-down perspective and suggest that the loss of oysters was the main driver of eutrophication.  By examining records from Chesapeake Bay and Pamlico Sound, the authors found that although colonial agriculture increased nutrient inputs during the 1700’s and a shift to phytoplankton dominated primary production occurred, anoxia and hypoxia were not widespread until the 1930’s when the oyster fishery collapsed (Jackson et al. 2001).  Restoring oysters to the East River can be seen as an attempt to realign food web dynamics.  Correspondingly, from a bottom-up perspective, the decline in oyster populations likely had a large effect on its immediate predators.  This is an important consideration for restoration plans that attempt to manage species of oyster predators or those dependent on oyster predators.   


  • Increased ecosystem functioning: The various ecosystem functions carried out by oysters are valuable but may be overlooked because they are also performed by other species.  Oysters provide carbon sequestration in the form of calcium carbonate during the accumulation of their shell matrix.  Also, the accumulation of oyster feces around reefs induces denitrification (Peterson et al. 2003).  However, other bivalves can serve similar functions.   Biodiversity and ecosystem function theory suggests that while an ecosystem’s functioning can be achieved by a small number of species per functional group, an ecosystem with many species per functional group is more robust (Naeem 2006).  Oyster restoration in the East River serves to increase the predictability and decrease the variability of ecosystem function by increasing biodiversity.  In essence, ecosystems with greater biodiversity are more resilient than those with less biodiversity. 


  • Habitat heterogeneity: Natural ecosystems are highly heterogeneous and habitat heterogeneity has been recognized as an important ecological variable (Larkin et al. 2006).  In the past, humans have homogenized the East River by filling in wetlands, straightening the shorelines, and putting up bulkheads along the strait. The need for habitat heterogeneity in the Hudson River Estuary is exemplified by Bain et al.’s (2006) study, which indicated that the lack of shallow and structured habitat in the Hudson’s mesohaline ecosystem led to the dominance of fish species more typical of open waters. 


Restoring oyster reefs to the East River introduces topographic heterogeneity to the habitat. Theoretically, greater topographic heterogeneity should lead to a greater diversity of niche spaces, which would increase biodiversity (Larkin et al. 2006).  The living shell matrix created by oysters provides structural heterogeneity and vertical relief; the reefs can be used as nursery and feeding grounds (Harding and Mann 2006) and the interstitial spaces between the oyster shells serve as valuable refuge space (Harding et al. 1999). Over 300 species have been identified as either directly or indirectly dependent on intertidal oyster reefs (Tolley et al. 2005).  These species include recreational and commercial fish (Harding and Mann. 2006) such as striped bass (Morone saxatilis), bluefish (Pomatomus saltatrix), weakfish (Cynoscion regalis), and spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus).  In a study examining the effect of reef restoration on macrofaunal assemblages, Rodney et al. (2006) found that the density of macrofauna on restored oyster reefs were a magnitude higher than the density in plots without restoration.                  


  • Shoreline stabilization: Erosion is a significant problem for urban landscapes.  Oyster reefs can influence hydrology within an estuary and stabilize intertidal sediment (Meyer et al. 1997).  They can stabilize shorelines by reducing wave and other erosive energies along marsh and estuarine shorelines.  Additionally, oysters produce a crystallizing cement of calcium carbonate, which allows them to bond together; this cement is hypothesized to contribute to shoreline stabilization (Piazza et al. 2005).  Reef restoration in the East River is beneficial because reefs can attenuate the high-energy waves created by boat wakes and protect exposed shorelines from erosion.   


  • Water filtration: Although the East River’s water quality has steadily improved, it still has problems with eutrophication, turbidity, and low levels of dissolved oxygen.  As suspension filter feeders, oysters have a great capacity for water filtration.  On a per-area basis, oyster reefs are estimated to remove 25 times more nitrogen than salt marshes do (Waldman 1999).  Oysters remove phytoplankton, particulate organic carbon, sediments, pollutants, and microorganisms from the water and they assimilate most of the organic matter that they filter (Tolley et al.).  By improving water quality, oysters can enhance biodiversity by making the habitat more suitable for other faunal and floral species.  For instance, by consuming phytoplankton, oysters increase the amount of light that reaches the water ecosystem.  Since sea grass bed distributions are mainly limited by light availability (Greening and Janicki 2006), oyster restoration can contribute to the restoration of sea grass habitats.    


2.2 Threats

The decline of oyster populations in the Hudson River Estuary has been attributed to a number of factors including pollution, overharvesting, and disease.  In addition to these threats, restored oysters face basic ecosphysiological constraints and threats that are unique to the East River ecosystem.  Each threat must be considered carefully before developing an effective restoration plan.

  • Overharvesting: Overharvesting is problematic for oysters because it causes population decline and habitat loss at the same time.  Since oyster larvae rely on oyster reefs as a setting substrate, recruitment rates decrease as oyster populations decline (Brumbaugh et al. 2006).  In New York, however, shellfish harvesting in Westchester, Bronx, Kings, New York, Richmond, Queens Counties have been banned because of concerns over sanitation (NYSDEC 2006).  The East River, in essence, can be a sanctuary for oysters. 
  • Pollution: Although the effect of pollution on oyster mortality is not as clear as the effect of other threats such as disease, research indicates that pollution can significantly increase oyster mortality by acting synergistically with other threats.  Oysters are generally tolerant of a wider range of body temperatures, but temperature on extremes on both sides of their thermal optimum can lead to a transition from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism.  This transition to anaerobic metabolism can lead to increased mortality.  Lannig et al. (2006) found that oysters exposed to both temperature stress and Cadmium suffered high mortality in comparison to those exposed only to temperature stress.  Similarly, Chu and Hale (1994) found that exposure to pollutants enhanced preexisting Dermo infections and increased oyster susceptibility to induced infections.  These studies emphasize the element of uncertainty in restoration ecology, which can only be addressed by adaptive management.  Monitoring oyster health and habitat conditions will be essential for the project’s success.  Also, although it is beyond the scope of this project to remove all sources pollution in the East River, an effort should be made to encourage local officials to reduce pollution inputs.       
  • Disease: The main diseases that cause oyster mortality are MSX and Dermo diseases.  MSX is caused by the parasite Haplosporidium nelsoni and Dermo is caused by Perkinsus marinus.  Researchers at Rutgers University determined that resistance to MSX disease was heritable and have develop lines[8] of MSX-resistant oysters.  Two nearby hatcheries—F.M Flowers and Ocean Pond Corporation—routinely use MSX resistant oysters (Allen, Jr. et al. 1993).  Purchasing oyster seeds from these hatcheries will benefit the restoration project.
  • Ecophysiological constraints: Oysters are generally hardy creatures (Waldman 1999) but do face certain ecophysiological constraints.  Their development and mortality are influenced by salinity, current velocity, and dissolved oxygen levels.  Oysters generally tolerate salinity levels between 15-25 ppt.  They tend to grow more rapidly in high salinity water; unfortunately, high salinity has also been associated with increased vulnerability to parasitic disease (Brown et al. 2005).  Disease occurrences should be carefully monitored during all phases of the restoration project.  Current velocity can affect oyster growth because currents bring food and oxygenated water to the reefs (Brumbaugh et al. 2006).   Generally, dissolved oxygen levels should consistently be above 5.0 mg/l or above.  In its current state, the Lower East River barely meets this requirement during the summer and the Upper East River has dipped below this threshold (NYCDEP 2004); this affects the timing and location of oyster restoration. 
  • Dredging & turbines: Due to increased sedimentation and the need to accommodate large commercial vessels, dredging is a common occurrence in and around the East River.  This implies that frequent communication with the Army Corps of Engineers is necessary in order to choose oyster restoration sites that are not slated to be dredged anytime in the near future.  Another limitation to oyster restoration is the installation and operation of turbines. Verdant Power has undertaken a project to test underwater turbines for energy production in the East River.  The construction project involves attaching the machines to concrete piles hammered into the bedrock nine meters below the water surface (Pearson 2004).  Restoration site selection will avoid turbine sites.  Currently, the project is limited to area around Roosevelt Island, but the company is also conducting a survey in the Buttermilk Channel, which is near Governor’s Island and there is potential for more sites in the future (Verdant Power 2006).  

3. Project proposal for oyster and oyster reef restoration in the East River

Oyster restoration in the East River has the potential to increase ecosystem health and function.  Though there are challenges to oyster restoration, they can be addressed by adaptive management.  This project emphasizes the importance of continual monitoring and assessment.  Also, community involvement and inter-organizational collaboration (see Appendix B) are essential to the project’s success.  The time required for oyster populations to reach a point of self-sustainability and restored ecosystem function is unclear.  Based on studies of wetland restoration and marine protected areas, the project will require a minimum of 10 years with varying degrees of restoration efforts along the way.    

3.1 Short-term (1-5 years) goals

The short-term goal for this oyster restoration project is to establish 3-4 oyster restoration sites in the East River through inter-organizational collaboration and community involvement.  Short-term objectives are to assess the habitat quality of various sites in the East River and to select sites for restoration based on these assessments, to establish inter-organizational partnerships, to create a shellfish donation/recycling program, and to create a network of volunteers for monitoring oyster gardening and oyster reef planting in at least 3-4 sites in the East River.  Below is the time line for the project’s activities during the first year.  During the next our years, similar activities will take place, but adjustments will be made based on accumulated data.  A budget for the first year of the project is provided in Appendix C.

Time Line

Project action and justification

January 2007

The first step to the project is to establish partnerships with local, regional, and federal organizations that might be interested in the project.  The objective is to contact as many organizations as possible and to explain how this project can complement or help achieve the prospective collaborator’s goals.[9]  This can lead to a sharing of project costs (for boats, storage facilities, monitoring equipment), volunteers, and data.   






Community involvement is important because it offsets potentially steep project costs and helps raise awareness about environmental health.  Furthermore, volunteers can benefit from scientific training.  Volunteers will be recruited through communication with partner organizations, at local schools, community board meetings, and community gardens.  The project will also rely on local scientists, experts, and officials to help train volunteers.   





February 2007











May 2007







June 2007

























March-May 2008



















June 2008





The project will begin to look at the water quality at various sites (at least 10 locations) throughout the East River.  At this time a group of at least 30 volunteers, including experts, is needed.  Measurements of temperature, salinity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen will be recorded at each site using YSI meters.  Additional information about rates of boat traffic, human activities, and evidence pollution will also be recorded.  Volunteer divers will take surveys of species assemblages and relative abundance at each site (in a 10mx10m area).  This data will later be used to assess the effects of oyster restoration.  This data should be recorded as often as possible but at least once every two months for the duration of the project.


About month prior to the beginning of the oyster gardening program, the necessary permits to maintain oyster gardens and the use of public piers and docks will be obtained.  Second, if oyster gardens will be located near areas easily accessible by the public, then warning signs against consuming the oysters should be put up.  One of the reasons that New York authorities have been hesitant to encourage oyster restoration is because


The oyster gardening portion of the project will begin.  It will be beneficial to see how oysters will perform during the summer when increased primary production often degrades water quality.  Volunteers will be trained on how to care for the oysters and to monitor their mortality.  Volunteers will be asked to randomly choose and measure the size of 20 oysters; these measurements will later be used to calculate growth rates at different sites.  Oyster seeds will be purchased from Flowers and Sons’ Hatchery: this hatchery uses MSX-resistant lines, which may decrease the oysters’ vulnerability to mortality (Allen, Jr. et al. 1993).  The number of seeds purchased will depend on the number of volunteer oyster gardeners.  Assuming the participation of about 50 gardeners and an average capacity to maintain 500 oysters/person, 25,000 oyster seeds (22.5mm) will be purchased.  Taylor floats, oyster cages, and mesh bags will also be provided to the volunteers.  The volunteers will continue caring for the oysters and monitoring their growth throughout the rest of the year.


At this time, the shell recycling/donation program will also begin.  Project volunteers will contact local restaurants and oyster processing businesses in the regions for shell donations.  Oyster shells are preferable but clamshells are also acceptable. The shells need to be dried out in order to prevent the transmission of oyster parasite or pathogens (Brumbaugh et al. 2004).  Ideally, enough shells will be donated to restore approximately .10-.25 acres of reef during the initial year.  



Depending on the weather, steps will be taken to begin oyster reef planting.  The water quality data obtained by volunteers will be analyzed to determine which sites are most suitable for oyster reef restoration.  Also, general observations about oyster mortality will aid in selecting the best sites. Timing is important because the objective is to plant the shells early enough so that if there are extant oyster populations in the strait, their larvae will have viable substrate to settle on.  In general, male and female oysters release spawn when the water temperature rises to 60-68º F (Wallace 2001). Depending on the abundance of shells, either a barge or a boat will be needed to bring the shells out to the restoration site.  If there are significant donations, then the shells can simply be hosed off the barge to form mounds in the strait’s bottom.  For smaller amounts of shell, mesh bags can be used to package the shells and planted individually.  To optimize the function of oyster reef habitat, care will be taken to create topographic heterogeneity within the reef.  After the reefs have been planted, the volunteer gardeners will return the now adult oysters.  Prior to dispersing the adult oysters, each volunteer will again randomly select 20 oysters and measure their size.  This information can be used to calculate growth rates.  The adult oysters will then be spread out through the restored reefs.    


The second cycle of oyster gardening will depend on the results from the previous year.  Information about mortality will be important to order the appropriate number of oyster seeds and equipment.


3.2 Long-term (5-10+ years) goals

The long-term goals of this project are to restore a self-sustaining population of Eastern oysters in the East River and to restore ecosystem health and function to the strait. 


  • Managing for long-term sustainability: In order to manage for long-term sustainability, population and metapopulation dynamics (Maschinski et al. 2006) need to be considered. Maximizing the amount of genetic diversity in East River oyster populations can increase fitness. The introduction of new alleles into the population via oyster seeds from other areas in the Hudson-Raritan Estuary will allow the East River population to respond to stochastic events more effectively.  It is important to choose individuals from local areas such as Upper Bay, Raritan Bay, and Oyster Bay because they are adapted to similar ecological conditions; at the same time, they can provide new alleles for the East River population.  If possible, the oyster restoration project should be expanded to include other areas such as Jamaica Bay.  


  • Assessing project success: This project will assess restoration efforts by using Before-After-Control-Impact single-time analysis.  In February 2012, volunteer divers will be asked to revisit and survey the original 10 candidate sites.   The survey data from 2007 will then be compared to 2012 data.  Comparing the two sets of data provide information about whether reef restoration had an effect on species assemblages and relative abundance.  Although dredging techniques are often employed for this purpose  (Brumbaugh et al. 2006), diving surveys would be a less invasive method.  Additionally, water clarity data can provide insight as whether oysters are performing water filtration purposes. 


Oyster restoration in the East River would lead to numerous benefits for the local ecosystems.  Public involvement in this project will also benefit the City’s vision for the Hudson River Estuary in the long-term.  By working together, authorities, non-profit organizations and individual citizens can create a healthier environment.

Works Cited:


Allen Jr., S. K., P. M. Gaffney, and J. W. Ewart. 1993. Genetic Improvement of the Eastern Oyster for Growth and Disease Resistance in the Northeast in N. R. A. Center.  Dartmouth, Massachusetts.


Bain, M.B., M.S. Meixler, and G.E. Eckerlin.  2006.  Biological status of sanctuary waters of the Hudson River Park in New York.  Final project report for the Hudson River Park Trust.  Hudson Park Trust, New York. 


Brumbaugh, R. D., M. W. Beck, L. D. Coen, L. Craig, and P. Hicks 2006. A Practictioners' Guide to the Design and Monitoring of Shellfish Restoration Projects: An Ecosystem Services Approach. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.


Chu, F. and R.C. Hale.  Relationship between pollution and susceptibility to infectious disease in the eastern oyster.  Marine Environmental Research: 243-256.


Costanza, R.  1992.  Toward an operational definition of ecosystem health.  In Ecosystem health: New goals for environmental management, ed. R. Costanza, B.G. Norton, and B.D. Haskell, 239-256.  Washington D.C.: Island Press.   


D’Elia, M.L.  2006.  Water quality and ecology of the East River.  Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, NY.  Available from (accessed October 2006).


DCP (Department of City Planning).  2006.  Transforming the East River waterfront.  DCP, New York. 


Greater Astoria Historical Society, Baard, E., T. Jackson, and R. Melnic.  Images of America: The East River. Arcadia Publishing, Great Britain. 


Greening, H. and A. Janicki.  2006.  Toward reversal of eutrophic conditions in subtropical estuary: water quality and sea grass response to nitrogen loading reductions in Tampa Bay, Florida, USA.


Harding, J.M. and R. Mann.  1999.  Fish species richness in relation to restored oyster reefs, Piankatank River, Virginia.  Bulletin of Marine Science 65:289-300.


Harding, J. and R. Mann.  Estimates of Naked Goby, Striped ass, and Eastern Oyster larval production around a restored Chesapeake Bay Oyster Reef.  Bulletin of Marine Science 66:29-45.


Jackson, J.B., M.X. Kirby, W.H. Berger, K.A. Bjorndal, L.W. Botsford, B.J. Bourque, R.H. Bradbury, R. Cooke, J. Erlandson, J.A. Estes, T. Hughes, S. Kidwell, C. Lange, H.S. Lenihan, J.M. Pandolfi, C.H. Peterson, R.S. Steneck, M.J. Tegner, and R.R. Warner.  Historical overfishing and the recent collapse of coastal ecosystems.  Science 293:629-638.


Larkin, D., G.V. Smith, and J.B. Zedler.  2006.  Topographic heterogeneity theory and ecological restoration.  In Foundations of restoration ecology, ed. D.A. Falk, M.A. Palmer, and J.B. Zedler, 142-164.  Washington, D.C.: Island Press.


Maschinski, J.  2006.  Implications of population dynamic and metapopulation theory for restoration. 


Naeem, S.  2006.  Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in restored ecosystems. In Foundations of restoration ecology, ed. D.A. Falk, M.A. Palmer, and J.B. Zedler, 210-237.  Washington, D.C.: Island Press. 


NY/NJ Baykeeper.  2005a.  NY/NJ Baykeeper oyster restoration rationale and strategic plan for the Hudson-Raritan Estuary.  Raritan Baykeeper, Keyport, NJ.   


NY/NJ Baykeeper.  2005b.  NY/NJ Baykeeper 2005 Oyster program report.  Raritan Baykeeper, Keyport, NJ. 


NYSDEC (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation).   2006.  Rules and regulations: 6 NYCRR Part 41-sanitary condition of shellfish lands.  NYSDEC, Albany, New York.  Available from (accessed November 2006).


Thom, R.M., G. Williams, A. Borde, J. Southard, S. Sargeant, D. Woodruff, J.C. Laufle, and S. Glasoe.  2005.  Adaptively addressing uncertainty in estuarine and near coastal restoration projects.  Journal of Coastal Research 40:94-108. 


Tolley, S.G., A.K. Volety, and M.Savarese.  2005.  Influence of salinity on the habitat use of oyster reefs in three Southwest Florida estuaries.  Journal of Shellfish Research 24:127-137.


USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).  2004. Hudson-Raritan Estuary Environmental Restoration Feasibility Study: Harlem River/East River/Western Long Island Sound study area report.  USACE, NY.  


Waldman, J.  1999.   Heartbeats in the Muck.  The Lyons Press, NY. 


Yozzo, D., P. Wilber, and R.J. Will.  2004.  Beneficial use of dredged material for habitat creation, enhancement, and restoration in New York-New Jersey Harbor.  Journal of Environmental Management 73:39-52. 

Appendix A: Trends in New York Harbor Water Quality (all graphs are from NYCDEP 2004)


Appendix B: Summary of local, state, and federal projects

Agency/project or program

Summary of project goals

How oyster & reef restoration in the East River benefits the project or program

How project can benefit oyster & reef restoration in the East River

NY/NJ Baykeeper/

To protect, preserve, and restore the ecological integrity and productivity of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary. 

Metapopulation theory (Maschinski 2006) suggests the establishment of diverse oyster populations will be important for the long-term sustainability of oysters in the Estuary.   

Data and equipment sharing.  Collaboration is also possible at future sites.


To safeguard the ecological integrity of the Hudson River, its tributaries and the watershed of New York City by tracking down and stopping polluters.

The East River oyster restoration project requires community involvement in activities such as oyster gardening.  Volunteers can help monitor water quality and report pollution.

By monitoring pollution, oyster populations are more likely to succeed.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/ Hudson-Raritan Ecosystem Environmental Restoration Study

To develop a long-term Comprehensive Restoration Plan of environmental improvements that would help restore the ecological value and richness of this nationally important resource [the Hudson-Raritan Estuary] and to implement restorations/enhancements at various locations in the Estuary.

Oysters were once an important ecological and cultural aspect of the Hudson River Estuary.  Oyster restoration can help achieve other restoration goals within the Estuary.

Funding for this oyster restoration project would be justified because it meets the USACE’s objectives.

Hudson River Estuary Program

To conserve the natural resources for which the Hudson is legendary; promote full public use and enjoyment of the river, and clean up the pollution that affects our ability to use and enjoy it.

Oysters were once an important ecological and cultural aspect of the Hudson River Estuary.  Oyster restoration can help achieve other restoration goals within the

Public interest in the use of the East River can lead to increased environmental awareness, which will benefit oyster restoration efforts.  Furthermore, public commitment to improving water conditions will increase the likelihood of oyster restoration success.

Urban Divers

To actively participate in the public education, restoration, conservation, and protection of our rivers, oceans, and marine wildlife, with a special focus on restoration of the NY/NJ Harbor Estuary.

Oyster restoration projects have typically depended on community involvement during all stages.  Involving the public in oyster restoration will lead to increased environmental awareness.

Volunteer divers can help monitor the restored oyster reefs.  Such information is needed to make effective decisions for the project.

Appendix C: First year estimated budget



Number of units

Price per unit

Total cost

YSI Model 30-50 SCT Handheld Conductivity Meter

To measure salinity and temperature




YSI Model 51B Oxygen Meter

To measure dissolved oxygen levels




Oyster seeds from Flowers and Sons

To establish oyster gardens




Taylor Floats, oyster cages, and mesh bags

To establish an oyster garden




Warning signs

To prevent consumption of oysters in the gardens







[1] Ecosystem health is defined as an ecological system that is “stable and sustainable…it is active and maintains its organization, and autonomy over time and is resilient to stress (Costanza 1992).”

[2] Adaptive management bases decisions on accumulated knowledge and is useful for cases where action is needed but significant uncertainty exists (Thom et al. 2005).

[3] Eastern oysters are the most significant native species to the east coast.  

[4] The Hudson River Park is the part of Manhattan’s western waterfront extending from the Battery to 59th street (Bain et al. 2006). 

[5] Almost all of the East River shoreline has been filled, hardened, or straightened (USACE 2004).

[6] The Inner Harbor area includes the Hudson River from the New York City-Westchester line, through the Battery to the Verrazano Narrows; the Lower East River to the Battery; and the Kill Van Kull-Arthur Kill system (NYCDEP 2004). 

[7] The Upper East River-Western Long Island Sound area includes the northeastern part of NY Harbor from Hell Gate up into the Western Long Island Sound (NYCDEP 2004). 

[8] A line is defined as a lineage of individuals in a closed breeding population (Allen, Jr. et al. 1993).

[9] Appendix B provides a list of potential collaborators and summarizes the benefits to both projects.



Last Updated by James Danoff-Burg, 20 Dec 06