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Shellfish as Living Infrastructure
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Contrary to what one would expect from the term "landscape architecture," the domain of landscape design does not end at the waterline. The discipline of landscape design can and should play a pivotal role in the restoration of critical marine habitat. As Superstorm Sandy made devastatingly evident in October 2012, the boundary between land and water has become increasingly difficult to define. Landscape design can function as a bridge between these two seemingly distinct domains. Landscape design is also able to provide visualization of underwater conditions through maps and above-water structures, and connect concepts of public realm improvements to the science and regulatory contexts of marine environments. In doing so, the landscape architecture profession is able to facilitate public engagement and educational awareness of restoration projects and place these projects in a cultural context, which may prove to be a key element behind their ultimate long-term success.

In particular, landscape design can play a role in the restoration of shellfish habitat in the New York Harbor. Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica ) and ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa ) provide numerous ecosystem services. Both species of bivalves are filter feeders and can improve water quality by facilitating the removal of excess nitrogen and other pollutants from the water column. A single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day (NY/NJ Baykeeper, pers. comm.). Oysters are a keystone species in the ecosystem, and reefs in particular increase the availability of habitat for a wide array of marine organisms by providing spatially complex substrate and mosaic-like topography. They also can function as wave attenuators, thereby helping to mitigate the effects of storm surges (New York-New Jersey Harbor Estuary Program 2009). The ecological benefits of ribbed mussels mirror those of oysters and because of their higher tolerance to pollutants, it is more feasible at the present time to focus on the restoration of mussels, which are already plentiful around the harbor. Furthermore, oysters are a desirable food source for humans. Coined by some as an "attractive nuisance," concerns have been raised about human consumption due to possible accumulation of harmful toxins. Heavy metals still present from the manufacturing history in New York and New Jersey would be incorporated into the oyster tissue. It should be noted that State of Maryland, however, has active partnerships between the oyster industry and restoration advocates, and the issue of "attractive nuisance" has not impeded active shell and seed planting efforts throughout the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland, which invested more than $50 million in oyster recovery (Fears 2013), may serve as a model for other states interested in restoring oysters for economic and ecological purposes.

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Figure 1. 

Rendering of Oyster-tecture at the Bay Ridge Flats, a shallow area out in the Gowanus Bay, New York with downtown Manhattan in the background . Image credit: SCAPE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE PLLC.

There are already several planning initiatives in the New York / New Jersey Harbor related to shellfish restoration, and a series of pilot projects that aim to test the feasibility of returning shellfish to the much-altered harbor ecology. The Oyster Restoration Research Project (ORRP) had five pilot reefs at sites around the New York Harbor with different environmental conditions, and they are now focusing their efforts on the Soundview reef in the Bronx (Grizzle et al. 2013). The experimental reefs were made out of a rock base covered with a mollusk shell veneer. These reefs were then seeded with Spat on Shell and monitored to assess both the survival of the oysters and the ecosystem services they provide. In addition to the Soundview reef, reefs off Governors Island and Hastings-on-Hudson showed promising results, and were all reseeded with spat. The reefs at Bay Ridge Flats, Brooklyn, and Staten Island were not reseeded because both were located in dynamic systems and were covered with sedimentation. Moving forward, ORRP aims to increase reef size and develop mechanisms to limit erosion and transport of spat off of the reefs (Grizzle et al. 2013).

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Figure 2. 

Model of the variety of human uses of Oyster-tecture . Image credit: SCAPE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE PLLC.

These pilot reefs can be compared to the restoration...

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