At the World Nature Summit in Montreal, there is a lot of talk about species conservation. Not far away, researchers and indigenous people have succeeded in renaturalizing a formerly polluted bay - with the help of oysters.
Hardly a day goes by when Chris Paparo isn't on the lookout for new sea creatures. The marine biologist grew up on Long Island near New York. "Back in the day, we almost never saw whales," Chris says, "it just wasn't there. Today, you can see humpback whales and dolphins on almost any beach on Long Island." It's a sight that fills him with pride every time, because Chris is one of the researchers who worked on the restoration project.
"The polluted water was our biggest challenge. We had to deal with harmful algae in the bay every year," recalls Ellen Pikitch, a marine biologist and professor at Stony Brook University. The ocean in the 40-square-mile bay had been fished dry, she says. In addition, chemicals from the septic tanks of local residents were killing plants and animals. To clean the water mechanically would have been far too expensive. The researchers therefore relied on the power of nature.mussels as saviors One key to success was mussels. Students bred them in the laboratory and then released them into the bay. To prevent them from being fished away again, protected areas were designated. This was the only way the mussels could grow and thrive - and help the scientists. "A single oyster filters up to 190 liters of water a day," Paparo says, proudly displaying an entire oyster cluster that has been growing new mussels for a year. Each one has helped make Shinnecock a model. "First it was the oysters, then came the seaweed, that became the habitat for little flounders, crabs and shrimp. And so sometimes it just takes a small change to bring back biodiversity," Paparo explains.
Learning from the indigenous people Using nature to protect it - the researchers have also learned this from the Shinnecocks. The tribe lives on the other side of the bay. Their territory is clearly visible from afar: On the coast in the expensive Hamptons, villa after villa would otherwise line up, each with its own jetty and protective walls against the waves. At the Shinnecocks, grasses grow on the dunes, and large boulders lie in the water as breakwaters. "For us, it's an old tradition to farm in harmony with nature," Shane Weeks says, "but people understand more and more that what they call progress is harming us as a species and the whole world." Indigenous people have long relied on oyster beds to keep the water cleaner and protect the coast from storms. But in the past, no one ever cared about their interaction with nature, says the young man, who serves as an ambassador for the Shinnecocks around the world to report on their traditions.
Biodiversity as an economic factor "The Shinnecocks have known how to preserve biodiversity for hundreds of years," marine biologist Pikitch also says. They've had a big part in the Bay's success, she says. It's a success that's paying off: the clean water is attracting more tourists to Long Island, reviving the local economy and giving fishermen better catches. Only recently, an environmental organization named the bay a "Hope Spot". That puts Shinnecock in the same league as the Galapagos Islands. "This is great for our area," Paparo enthuses. Not just because local residents can now see whales and go fishing again. It's also showing people elsewhere how important it is to bring back biodiversity, he says. "We live here on the doorstep of New York, one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. And we have a huge shellfish population. The fish are coming back, and so are the whales. That could show people all over the world: What we're doing here may seem small, but it's helping the big picture."
Finding alternative and sustainable solutions that help to create a healthier environment, have to be spread around the world. With the help of a worldwide network, these kinds of solutions can also find practice in other regions and achieve several Sustainable Development Goals at the same time and also convince other people to start with their own projects.
More information: https://www.billionoysterproject.org/