One Billion Oysters, One Shell of a Mission

Photo by © Steven DeWitt

New York was once home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs. The New York Harbor was one of the most diverse and dynamic environments on the planet, where whales, dolphins, seals, seahorses, herring, striped bass, and hundreds of other species enjoyed the benefits of the oyster reefs.

Billion Oyster Project wants to restore the beauty and bounty of the New York Harbor, and create a future in which New York is the center of a rich, diverse, and abundant estuary. Their mission is to restore one billion oysters to the New York Harbor by the year 2035.

Founded in 2014 by Murray Fisher and Pete Malinowski, the nonprofit organization operates on the belief that restoration without education is only temporary. When Fisher and Malinowski met at The Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, where they both worked, they discovered that when students are given an opportunity and a responsibility to help make a difference, they rise to the occasion.

“New York Harbor is, by far, the largest open space in New York City,” said Billion Oyster Project executive director Pete Malinowski. “At Billion Oyster Project, we believe that the Harbor belongs to all New Yorkers and we all have a right to access a safe and clean Harbor that supports the great diversity and abundance of animals it once did.”

Billion Oyster Project was created to restore oyster reefs to New York Harbor through public education initiatives, giving students the opportunity to work on real restoration projects and lead the movement to restore New York’s rich oyster history.

Why oysters?

Oyster reefs have the ability to filter water and help shield New York City shorelines from storm damage. In fact, an adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.

These “ecosystem engineers” filter water as they eat, removing pollutants like nitrogen. This is very important to a marine ecosystem because excessive nitrogen triggers algal blooms that deplete the water of oxygen and create “dead zones.”

Like coral reefs, oyster reefs provide habitat for hundreds of species. Oysters grow off of one another — creating a hardy infrastructure for a lively underwater city of marine wildlife.

Massive oyster reef systems in New York Harbor were once a natural defense against storm damage—softening the blow of large waves, reducing flooding, and preventing erosion. The historic evidence of oysters in New York Harbor drives us to return it to its rightful place as an ecological treasure.

002NY One Billion Oysters
© Lexey Swall/Pew Charitable Trusts

The Oyster Impact

47 Million Oysters Restored
Since 2014, the Billion Oyster Project has restored 47 million live oysters through 15 reef sites across the five boroughs, from Coney Island Creek in Brooklyn to SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx.

1.6 Millions Pounds Of Shells Collected

Shells are essential to restoring oysters! Oyster, clam, and scallop shells provide ideal hard surfaces for young oysters to settle on, which is paramount to their survival. These shells are also rich in calcium carbonate.

In 2015, Billion Oyster Project started a Shell Collection Program, giving restaurants an opportunity to not only divert shells from landfills, but also to reclaim this valuable resource for the restoration of oyster reefs. Thanks to New Yorkers’ lasting love for oysters, these shells are a plentiful local resource and a great way to make an impact.

In partnership with Talisker Single Malt Scotch Whisky, the lead sponsor of Billion Oyster Project’s Shell Collection Program, a truck circulates New York City every week to collect used shells and transport them to a Brooklyn depot. When you order oysters at a Billion Oyster Project partner restaurant, the shells left over from your meal will be donated and reused to help restore New York City’s oyster reefs.

002NY One Billion Oysters
© The Pew Charitable Trusts
© Brittany Falussy

8,000+ NYC Students Engaged

Billion Oyster Project works with over 100 schools across New York City, providing a hands-on introduction to STEM education and inspiring students to engage with New York’s harbors.

In addition, the Billion Oyster Project works in partnership with the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school focused on preparation for maritime careers.

Students from the Harbor School engage in large-scale restoration projects—from designing and welding oyster enclosures, to growing algae to feed oyster larvae, to inspiring the local community to get involved.

These students are treated like scientists working to solve a local environmental challenge—because they are! Thanks to students involved in the Billion Oyster Project, NY state restaurants may soon be eligible for a tax credit for recycling their shells. Allowing students to pitch ideas and make a difference in their communities not only inspires a love of creating positive change, but sets the foundation for education with a lasting impact.

The communities that surround this complex ecosystem have helped construct it, and in return, benefit from it, with endless opportunities for work, education, and recreation. With the help of tens of thousands of students, teachers, scientists, volunteers, and donors, Billion Oyster Project has restored 47 million oysters. By 2035, we seek to engage one million people in restoring one billion oysters to NY Harbor.

Join the project at

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