STATES CHRONICLE – When Hurricane Sandy caused massive flooding, and huge waves came crashing into the harbor back in 2012, the natural protection New York had left was completely destroyed. But it seems that a big part of this natural shield was already long gone, which is why the hurricane managed to do so much damage in the first place.
According to a new study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Massachusetts, starting with the 16th century, European settlers picked up oysters from their reefs until by the beginning of the 20th century, the reef covering 350 square miles was completely gone.
Although it was clear that colonists had done something to increase the number of storm-induced flooding, the researchers were having troubling figuring out what was they did exactly. But when taking into consideration the massive oyster consumption which decimated oyster beds in the New York Harbor, something clicked.
The natural barrier existing in the ocean just off the coast of New York disappeared because people were either eating it or using it for their crops, or using it as mortar in constructions. The worst part is that this natural barrier could have actually stopped most of the flooding happening in time. The damage caused costs over $40 billion in repairs.
Being all in one place and forming a strong barrier, the oysters could stop wave energy and also represent a filter for water pollution, feeding on microorganisms. The researchers simulated a storm with an oyster bed and without to see the impact it can have on the city. They found that the wave energy hitting the shore was up to 200 percent higher than it was when the reef was present.
When officials finally enforced a law against oyster trade, it was already too late for the New York reef. New Yorkers have then started to import oysters from Maryland. And now, Maryland is in danger of becoming “oysterless”. This is why, authorities decided to build ten reefs, each one of them having over 1 billion oysters which will be protected from fishing. In this way, the oyster population will thrive again, and the coast will also be more protected.
Image source: nypost.com