The Little Oyster That Could
When people think of oysters, they often think of pearls or, perhaps, a seafood dish. But I see oysters as so much more. I see a powerful force for change in one tiny, compact body.
This past summer and the summer before, I managed an oyster farm through the Moriches Bay Project. The farm began with ten thousand baby oysters the size of pencil erasers, in ten floating cages. We plant them in late June, and once a week, I shake their cages, flip them over, brush off all the algae and fight off carnivorous crabs. Eventually, as the summer progresses, I watch them grow to be size of large golf balls. I have a pretty simple job, but it is key for the oysters’ survival. If my farm is successful, my oysters will improve water quality in Moriches Bay, because each one can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. It’s astounding how one tiny creature can have such a huge impact on the environment.
I have been lucky enough to grow up on Long Island, with the luxurious sand and salty cold bay as my playground, stomping around in thigh-high waders, exploring, catching, touching and splashing for hours on end. When I was little, the bay gave me hours of wonder and entertainment. However, in my lifetime, I have seen a change in the quality of the water. There is noticeably more pollution, and the bay is not as clear as it used to be. One year, I saw thousands of silvery fish, floating motionless on the surface of the Shinnecock Bay. My dad explained how an overgrowth of certain plants had killed them, and because they were dead, other marine life would also be affected. It wasn’t until many years later that I learned what “red tides” and “brown tides” were, and that by living near the water in a home with a septic system, I was unknowingly contributing to the problem. This upset me. This was my home, my water, and I could not allow the pollution to be my doing. Witnessing the decrease in the water quality ignited a spark in me; I decided that something had to change and that I wanted to be a part of that change. I wanted to be a part of the solution.
Working with the Moriches Bay Project has been so meaningful to me because I’m helping to preserve something that has shaped me and added so much to my life. Some people litter and argue, “It’s just one wrapper; it will not make a difference.” But when that is said on a global scale, by millions of people, it does make a difference. Conversely, the same can be said about oysters. One oyster can only filter 50 gallons of water per day, but ten thousand oysters can filter five hundred thousand gallons of water, and that can have a huge impact on quality of the inlets. Many people who live on Moriches Bay have no idea the oysters are even there, cleaning the water they swim in and look at every day. They have no idea that I am one little person quietly scrubbing oyster cages, and because of my work, the environment around them will improve. The residents can’t see the impact yet, but as this project and other environmental projects expand, I know that the results will be noticeable.
There are few things I know for sure in life, but one of them is that I want to be like an oyster, quietly making a difference in the world. I may not be the most outspoken or powerful person in the room, but I know the impact I am capable of. Like the oysters I raise, I will leave the world a better place.