New York is building a wall of oysters to fight flooding

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Senior Writer, Formative Content


  • The sea level around Battery, New York, has risen by nearly nine inches since 1950. Tidal flooding has increased by 247% in some areas of New York since 2000.
  • Rising seas make floods more likely and hurricanes more damaging.
  • Oysters could create a surprisingly effective natural flood defence.

New York is becoming increasingly flood prone and one organization says oysters may form part of the solution.

Many of us saw images of this year’s flash floods in subways and on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. And scientists say future floods are more likely, since absolute sea levels around the city have risen and these make for a higher launching point for storm surges.

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Rising sea levels and flood potential are becoming of increasing concern around the world. Coastal areas will see continued sea level rise throughout the 21st century, contributing to more frequent and severe coastal flooding in low-lying areas, the IPCC said in its report on climate change.

“Extreme sea level events that previously occurred once in 100 years could happen every year by the end of this century,” the IPCC said.

Against that backdrop, New York is seeking solutions, and will need action at individual, local, state and federal levels to protect its coastal communities, according to sealevelrise.org.

on the up: New York is finding solutions to the challenges of rising tides
On the up: New York is finding solutions to the challenges of rising tides Image: sealevelrise.org


And oysters are ready to play a role, according to non-profit the Billion Oyster Project, which has restored oysters at 15 reef sites across the five boroughs. https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1463195120430460931&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.weforum.org%2Fagenda%2F2021%2F12%2Fnew-york-oysters-sea-rise-climate-change%2F&sessionId=511da1e8deeafecc9e54fc81295c2c8277eda319&theme=light&widgetsVersion=9fd78d5%3A1638479056965&width=550px

“Oyster reefs can help protect New York City from storm damage,” the organization says. “Softening the blow of large waves, reducing flooding, and preventing erosion along the shorelines.”

And the power of the oyster is not just being harnessed in New York. It is also being used to stave off coastal wetland erosion in Louisiana, according to a BBC report, and to safeguard Kutubdia Island in Bangladesh.

Mohammed Shah Nawaz Chowdhury and other researchers reviewed research to show that “eco-engineered reefs provide a useful tool to assist in developing coastal resilience in the face of climate change and sea level rise.”

While oysters aren’t a solution on their own, harnessing their power can help stave off some of the consequences of rising sea levels and increased likelihood of flooding.

Back in New York, the Billion Oyster Project hopes to restore 100 million oysters to New York Harbour in the next five years. And its efforts have benefits that go beyond flood mitigation.

“The waterways surrounding New York City are the cleanest they have been in over 100 years,” the organization says in a YouTube video. “Alongside this improvement in water quality has been a resurgence of wildlife.”

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