New York was built at the mouth of the Hudson River, and that fertile estuary environment was filled with all kinds of marine life. But one creature in particular shaped the landscape: the oyster. It is estimated that trillions of oysters once surrounded New York City, filtering bacteria and acting as a natural buffer against storm surges.
Over time, pollution and other environmental changes killed off that oyster population. But a group of landscape architects are designing artificial oyster reefs to help protect the city and foster a better relationship between the natural and built environment along this coastal edge.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
This is ninety. Nine percent, invisible, nine roman Mars
if you're standing on the sidewalk and the New York Financial District in the shadows of glass skyscrapers. You definitely
feel like you're out the seaside, but had a few blocks south
and suddenly you're at the edge of the continent. Looking out at the water. That's producer
This world there are docks and seagulls and ferry boats ready to take. You island hopping
writer Paul Green, moved into an apartment down here over a decade ago and up until that point
like a lot of new Yorkers, I didn't really pay that much attention to the sea.
Want to go to the ocean. I would go to others vineyard or long island, but then
started noticing all these maritime buildings, like the old Fulton fish market, where fishermen used to sell their catch to restaurants. I suddenly we sort of confronted with the fact that,
New York Manhattan is really a very ocean. He kind of place,
bird actually writes about the ocean for a living. His most recent book is called American catch.
And he started to research, the relationship between New York, city and the sea, but then into
I thousand in twelve. Something happened that me.
That relationship impossible to ignore hurricane sandy crashing on shore wins
ninety miles per hour, and this storm is so big, so vast, sixty million Americans will feel its power just now that this actually see you take a look out here. That is the problem bridge and look at how those wins a whipping there
I ve around regain hurricane sandy storm search, inundated neighborhoods do out New York city seawater.
Order into the streets funny
apartment buildings and filling the subway tunnels green book
his family waded out the storm in their tenth floor apartment, we sat there
the storm hadn't things started to rock and roll. Then everything went black.
Sandy knocked out power across lower Manhattan. The day after
I immediately wanted to get a sense of what it was like, so he walked
onto the waterfront passed a bunch of bars and restaurants, and when you peered in the windows it looked as if there had been a horrible,
bar fight, because the water come in flooded.
Two eight or nine feet and throat,
the chairs and tables up in the air, but as he said,
made. The damage Greensburg also started to notice things about his neighborhood that he never had before turns out
That Broadway and I live on Broadway is a ridge line. It's the high point between EAST and west and win hurricanes handy hit, lower Manhattan
got safer and safer and drier and drier club
sir. You are up to Broadway. He says the storm
Force New Yorkers to see the relationship between their city and the ocean in a much
more intimate way, nothing acquaints you with,
cities, topography like living in
I have a hurricane and feeling
water flow up in an rise up in red literally start to swallow. The city
and he took the lives of over one hundred people in the United States and caused upwards of fifty billion dollars in damage. It was
I can't most expensive storm in: U history
are the reason why the storm was so destructive has to do with climate change. Scientists have calculated that
because of sea level rise driven by climate change. Sandy flooded,
an additional twenty seven square miles and affected eighty three thousand more people than it would have. Otherwise, there is a wake up call here, and there is a lesson to be learned
this is Governor Andrew Cuomo. Speaking in the storms aftermath, it was
is a reality that has existed for a long time that we have been blind to.
And that is climate change, extreme weather call it what you will,
our vulnerability to it.
Its undeniable, but that the frequency of extreme weather conditions is up, so
It's gonna be a rethinking
redesign of how we protect
this metropolitan area from this increased frequency
architects and engineers are looking at different ways that cities like New York and redesign their infrastructure to prepare for more extreme storm surges. There is talk of floodgates.
Massive, see, walls that would stretch across the entire harbor, but Paul
Remember says that one of the solutions for New York's future might lie in its past, also New York
natural state was set up to deal with big storms,
It was built at the mouth of the Hudson River in that fertile
estuary. Environment was filled with all kinds of marine life, but one
majestic creature, in particular, shape the landscape.
Made it probably in the trillions of oysters, surrounded New York City.
European colonization, but we now
Think of as the New York City Harbour was a veritable
waster kinda, some scientists
It contained nearly half the world's oysters,
and they were an important part of the ecosystem. Oysters are filter theatres and they helped you
bacteria levels in check and, in addition to their bills,
to filter the water wasters did a huge amount to buffer the city against storm searches.
Because oysters are kind of special. They are unique among molluscs in that they build in three D.
Pensions, so they're, really architects, innocence oysters.
To grow on top of other oysters they actually, since the chemical basic newness of oysters,
and they will see directly on top of other oyster. So you get these.
Invitations, these clumps that Bilbil build and build individually
they build up into massive complex, restructures kind of like coral reefs, what waste
There's really are the coral reefs of temperate zones, oyster
its covered over two hundred and twenty thousand acres in the Hudson River Estuary and Sunday,
they grew as high as twenty feet. Tall like coral reefs, they cut down
on coastal erosion and we're home
to all different kinds of fish in June,
This coral reefs help protect many tropical islands from hurricanes oysters
checked in New York City. They broke up large ways before they could crash onto the shore and below the surface. Their rough texture would
Greece, friction and slow down the water and so an oyster reef.
Spread out over many miles, will actually sap the way
If energy of waves passing over it
people don't associate New York City with oysters today, but
in the seventeen hundreds, they were
but New York was known for
stirs were absolutely central
so the identity of New York.
If somebody were to say I'm going to New York, there would say enjoy the oysters. This is marked her Lansky author of many books.
Including in environmental history of New York City, called the big oyster. Her Lansky says that before
or colonization. The indigenous le, not Bay people, eight lots of oysters, and when the Dutch arrived in the area they
and an oyster paradise unity.
His walk down to the shore anywhere, certainly
Lower. Manhattan were very which living men anywhere
then you don't break off a few ice yours to eat and that's exactly what they did:
everybody in new oysters.
So the only thing that poor people ever got to eat with oysters and bread, but it was also something that rich people lake
kind of unusual in food history to have enriched people. Food napoleon,
oh food, be the same. At the same time, voice
bears were sold in ST carts and bars, but also fancy restaurants,
and they were served in all different kinds of weights. Although there were lots of things, they were like oyster, loaves and oysters with different.
Kinds of sources, and they were oysters stews. This
Where did oyster cells piled up in huge mounds, outside of shocking houses and restaurants? They were so plentiful,
Builders began using oysters, as construction material shells were burnt
great lime, ground up for mortar or used to pay the streets, France,
Pearl street in lower Manhattan is called Pearl Street, as it was originally paved.
Crushed oyster shells. The demand
for oysters, was so great that it eventually outstripped New York's bountiful supply the
we can now and the railroad opened up new markets. Well, nature could not produce enough.
There is for no other places once they were shipping them to a lot of places. It was more than the natural beds could provide, but the men,
Eighteen hundred New York's natural oyster population had been depleted human
had nearly eaten the city's protective shellfish barrier out of existence, but that
wasn't the end of oysters in New York when they started to run out
as I said, in New York City. They when got seed from the Chesapeake Bay and they planted these baby oysters on long ropes
strong in rows throughout the shallows of the harbour. Farming oysters works quite
and it is a kind of the next logical step. You know if you need more oysters than grow there with nature. You just grow some yourselves oyster,
farming continued throughout the nineteenth century and by the eighteen eightys. The city was producing over seven hundred million oysters per year, but there was a problem
looking in the water for years.
The city had been dumping, industrial pollutants and sewage straight into the harbor. Without a second thought,
didn't seem to register with people that dumping raw sewage food supply would be unhealthy, seem sort of intuitive to me better. They didn't
Don't worry about that that is in
Early nineteen hundred when New York was hit the deadly outbreaks of cholera and typhoid public health officials,
were able to track the disease is back to the source, turned up
most of these epidemics are coming for oyster beds, and so one by one, the city started shutting down the oyster beds, which was really upsetting for new Yorkers. It was huge front,
page news every time they closed in oyster bed and thereby
all these articles about how we have to do something about this we're losing our heritage.
We are I stairs. We have to stop this. They somehow didn't get. It stopped,
New York closed, its last remaining oyster bed off the South coast of Staten Island in nineteen, twenty seven water quality.
Ten to deteriorate until oysters could know.
the water was so acidic. It would actually edged through the shelves,
by the middle of the twentieth century. New York's world famous oysters were all but gone
leading the sea bottom Baron and the city exposed
pollution continues to be a problem in New York, but in nineteen. Seventy two Congress past the Clean Water ACT which reg
did the waste being dumped into waterways and little
A little water quality in the harbour has improved now. Option levels are high enough to support shellfish, so theoretically we could have shellfish again throughout the day. This is Paul Green again in his book. American catch
he documents several different groups who are working really hard to try and bring back the New York Oyster
are a lot of obstacles in their way, including
the rules which make it really hard to plant oysters and the fact that their just isn't it
half wild oyster larvae in the water anymore, but one of them
biggest challenges is actually an architectural one, because the physical landscape of the harbour has totally changed
We ve been dragging the harbour for over a hundred. Fifty years now I went from an average depth of twenty feet to places where now it's more than fifty feet, and the bottom looks very different right now are harbour, has a flat mighty bottom,
but you know if we were to look at say. One thousand. Eight hundred and fifty one thousand eight hundred and eighty this would have been extremely kind of rough er. Three dimensional mosaic
This is Kate ORF, she's, a landscape, architect and founder of the firm scape based in Manhattan and she's,
the author of the new book towards it,
urban ecology. She also does
in the first landscape, architect to win a Macarthur genius, Ward and ORF says that a flat, muddy bottom
just does not work well for oysters. There's no places are very few places for oysters too,
grab onto and to attach
right now. There are some oyster larvae floating around out there, but they dont.
We stand a chance any waste that law.
On the bottom of the base. Bed will then immediately be covered with cell. So we need to lift those oysters off of the Bay floor and we need to provide substrate for these creatures to attach onto,
That challenge gave orphan idea that spawned one of my favorite portmanteaus, oyster texture, the cards.
Was to build giant nets, made a fuzzy marine rope and elevate them off the sea floor
They would then see the nets with oyster larvae and let the oysters grow from their
check alarm rates in the sense of becoming a mega structure at scales up out of very small organisms.
A relatively small architectural intervention. You could have a new piece of protective infrastructure and artificial oysters, which in turn
felt her the water slow,
the wire and create a safer relationship with that water, Kate, ORF, debuted, her oil
protect your proposal in two thousand ten, as part of an exhibit at the Museum of Modern ART called rising currents, and it was a speculative project that sparked a ton of commerce
nation. But it was never actually built.
But Hurricane Sandy brought new attention. The sea level rise and open new funding avenues for coastal resilience projects in twenty thirteen, the federal government
its hurricane Sandy Rebuilding taskforce and states in architect,
the competition called rebuild.
By design, Scape, hats, Kate, Orse architecture firm.
Submitted, an oyster centric proposal called living breakwaters. The progress
sixty million dollars of funding and will be carried out by the governors Office of storm recovery. Now
Gabe is in the process of designing artificial oyster reef, breakwaters off the South coast of Staten Island that anonymous
particularly hard hit by hurricanes, and this is GINO Worth another one of the architects from Scape.
Explaining the choice of location and the way it out
Ireland was also one of
on Staten Island and really dramatically impacted this landmass,
Staten. Island was also one of the EP centres of New York's historic oyster economy. So it's not the first time that people
I've been trying to cultivate and expand oysters within the bay,
hundreds of years ago. They were doing it for food production and today were trying to do it for a more robust and resilient shoreline
the design has evolved a lot from the original oyster texture proposal, with the marine rope
The plan now is to build a necklace of offshore breakwaters out of large rocks an especial material called Eco, concrete, which shellfish like
grow on. They will then see the breakwaters with oysters, so they grow into reefs much like a nap
oyster reef, the living breakwaters are designed to slow down the water and break up dangerous.
Waves before they reached the shore. As that way,
There's grow a really help address and a lot of
and break waves. The lid
break waters should reduce coastal erosion, build up beaches and makes storms less danger.
Modeling by scientists at the Stevens Institute has shown that the breakwaters could have reduced the height of waves during Sandy by three to six feet, but they won't keep
water out of Staten Island altogether and they're not meant to break lighters. Let the water thrill we can reduce.
Wave action. We can reduce the intensity and the velocity of that water, but we live in
still edge and we're
wants to design a way to make that coastal ed, safer and healthier both for humans and for Marine Life
in addition to reducing waves and filtering the water, the living
breakwaters will provide some of the habitat that always to reefs once did
Staten, island, historic, oyster reeves were filled with all these nooks and crannies, where juvenile fish, like the hide with them
up of marine biologist, the architects design pockets within the breakwater structure. They call them reef streets so
in the reef streets. Juvenile fish,
to come, and this kind of underwater canyons and feed in the street
and shelter and hide from predators in their structure.
As that as a landscape. Architect, your clients are usually people about our
no time to think about who are our underwater clients
who are these fish species that might use this system like if you are a fish swimming in the water. What would look like a safe place for cattle?
we're different mentality to have when designing than what a person looks were concerned,
she hasn't begun yet on the physical structure of the breakwater, but some of the
oysters are already growing.
There is growing over here. This is
Just tell a recent gradual
of the New York Harbours on governors Island. How do you hear the harbor?
School runs a program called the billion oyster project which aims
restore oysters throughout the harbour and in the process
teach young New Yorkers all about the marine Ecosystem, Asia,
standing next to a tank filled with whites
EL soaking there actually less.
Over shells from restaurants.
Around a lack shout different around the city.
On the surface of every shell. There are little oil starts growing round that every year waster they look like little blobs of brown jelly. If you get really cool
We can see the beginnings of an oyster. You can turn it on this
On this one has like stripes on it and say you know: that's like its own shall slowly growing, I it gets bigger artists,
You don't look like gonna be shells it's getting there, the billion oyster
project is an official partner on the living breakwaters, meaning
that millions of little brown balls of goo grown by young New Yorkers, like Asia, will soon be protecting Staten Island
The governors office of storm recovery is scheduled to begin construction of the living breakwaters in twenty eighteen, the billion
Mr project? Will work with local high schools wants to nail and to monitor or used for growth over time. Healthy reef can grow very quickly. So I'm we're very optimistic that by say twenty twenty five, we would have a pretty robust reef system going. Kate ORF says that even
their successful. They aren't going to return the coastal environment to the way it was before. No architect can do that they create
something totally new part ecosystem, part infrastructure and or hope
they inspire other living infrastructure projects, but she doesn't think that
so we are going to see New York from climate change. There is
any one solution to a problem, so immense and complex
researchers at the organization climate Central recently rank New York has the most vulnerable city in the United States to sea level rise without
four hundred and twenty six thousand people living in zones that could face serious flooding by two. Fifty, when you start
projecting up further than twenty fifty the scale of the problem
comes hard to fathom
It's really hard, frankly, to be optimistic, were on track for pre
rapid sea level rise, and can we kind of come together and pro actively see this? Is it
design opportunity and not a force that just displaced
thousands of people with less economic
means and who are less fortunate. I dont know, I think it's gonna be a real challenge, orphan
he's? Is the living breakwaters project as a step toward a healthier relationship between the city and the sea, but to protect New York
another coastal cities in the long term, there
to be a lot of other interventions that will need to be considered ending
development on coasts, lifting existing buildings up
and eventually, in some places, retreating literally from
flood prone areas, and- and can we have those
our conversations, I certainly hope so. I
so too, because New York is a city by the ocean and the water
only getting higher
oysters aren't the only non human architects. A time will
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Your views on this with area within the Fitzgerald interested that peace and in the piece you talk with Paul Greensburg and he talked about oysters behaviour
like architects as they build these massive structures in the shoreline, and it goes thing about other types of architecture that is not made by humans. I mean, I think
I feel like architecture and indeed of the building of structures and buildings is sometimes have thought about as something that separates humans from the beasts, but
But a lot of my favorite architects are our animals weight on stormy, but some are ITALY's. There's a lot of different examples of animal architecture.
But let's trial will try to do a couple from from different animal kingdom soda star with the mammals we ve gotta go with with Beaver.
We our serve yeah, maybe the most, maybe most obvious example, but they really are pretty special architects first, while they build these incredible houses there.
Lodge is out of sticks and mud and they ve got. You know these cool underwear
me, no more amazingly they'd complete.
He reengineer the landscape by cutting down trees, with their teeth and building these these big dams. That
essentially will turn you know, what's a river system into a peaceful pawn for them to live in
and I was sort of looking into this- and I found this one scientists think that they have discovered the large
speaker dam in the world in northern Alberta in Canada, and it's it's two thousand seven hundred and ninety level, which
Is your eminence has really been ethic larger than than the human dams as large Re Hoover day and rape, and any other think that this
building over many overlooked, multiple generations of beavers different families contributing to this. This massive damned create sort of a little Beaver paradise up there in an upward and why we think it would take declarations to do that. That's remarkable towards was next hour.
So moving on to in sex their tongues of great examples of insect architects. Bees ants, but I'm gonna, go it termites. For this one termites build none of these giant mounds out of mud. You can find them all over the world really in a lot of dry climates and in Africa, in Austria, in South America, and and these can get
a huge. They can be upwards of, like thirty feet, tall
I am in Emily, wide to elect these really really really large structures, and if you think about that relative to the size of a termites body, it's like
even more impressive? I mean three river tall structure Inter INA for a termite. That's if you, if you serves
the that up to our size. It would be something like close to a man.
Oh hi mom. So they really are building mean incredible July's gravely.
This guy's greatness yeah, but
my favorite thing about terms mounds, really those that they exist really to provide ventilation to the termite com.
The colony exists, colony, exists, even underground and spreads out beneath in over a greater distance than just that. The term mound, but it can get real
they really hot underground, especially
these dry climates and so they'll build this structure upwards and its super porous and so cool breezes will catch the term I mound and
its built in such a way that advantage weights on the entire colony and keeps them, and you know it, helps them regulate their temperature, which is just a pretty amazing, is level of innovation for a tiny insect, communicate season thing about these things. It has been a mound of dirt that they,
and again and live in. It really is a purpose built solution to solve
a certain problem right, exactly yeah, that's remarkable!
and their and Anita, and the same can be said about about lots of different animals and obviously it's like full different, because it's not
No, it's not like a single person who has an idea like solution to a problem in late. It's like an evolutionary solution like an adaptation that they developed over a long period of time, but it doesn't that doesn't make it any less remarkable to meet. You owe me either that's amazing or get so what's our liberal arts,
This is our last one, as is my my personal favorite, really just for like the artistry of it, but there's this bird in that lives in the forests of new Guinea called the vehicle cop power bird was a few different bower birds, but the vital cop is my my personal favorite and its it this time
ITALY unassuming looking birds like a little brown looks title like a sparrow, so this this on
swimming bird, but the male Bower bird. In order to get females attention, they will
spend several years. Building these
labyrinth structure is called Bowers and there
are there, like they're, so beautiful there like these there, like these beautiful Fatch tents that they that they construct using little twigs and sticks, but there sir,
carefully done if you came across one in the forest
like you, wouldn't even consider that a bird made that it looks like
this design by like little fairy architects or something and any other end, and then often Bobby carpeted with a mossy carpet. The front is propped up with two sticks at the entrance and and then there are decorate,
in these crazy ways will go in and get flowers and build little piles of flour
They'll get berries, I'm all kinds.
Especially things that are colorful to add color to the Bauer and then it's all
this is all of this- the ears of of mean a building work.
Doll just for this one moment when they are attempting to catch the eye of female Bower birds who are looking to mate.
So the female will come in them. There might be like more than one of these bowers in in a given part of the forest and show like decide who her favorite architect is ends and meet with a happy outcome. Protection will thanks for giving us a going through and worked ex yeah, my pleasure
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Transcript generated on 2020-02-14.