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Giving Back to the Community – One Oyster at a Time

  • 21 Nov 2023
  • by
  • Isabel Sepkowitz
  • Senior Corporate Communications Manager
Volunteers from our New York office helped restore oyster reefs to the New York Harbor by working with Billion Oyster Project.

Since FY21, Lendlease has partnered with Billion Oyster Project (BOP) to support their mission of restoring oyster reefs in the New York harbor with the help of local communities. Since then, 50 committed Lendlease employees have volunteered their time to raise awareness around the nonprofit’s mission of restoring one billion oysters back to the harbor by 2035.

“Our successful partnership with Billion Oyster Project exemplifies our social impact goals by partnering with a like-minded, nonprofit, community organization whose mission aligns with our Lendlease Foundation framework to support people and planet,” said Chun Yee Yip, VP and Director of Social Impact, Lendlease Americas. “We are excited to advance Billion Oyster Project’s efforts to restore NYC’s rich oyster history and for future collaborations between our two organizations.”

Launched in 2014, Billion Oyster Project has restored 122 million live oysters, collected more than two million pounds of shells and engaged 11,000 NYC students. Along with their goal of restoring one billion oysters to the New York Harbor by 2035, Billion Oyster Project also educates their volunteers about the importance of oysters and the habitat they create in the harbor.

Oysters are New York Harbor’s natural filtration system, with just one adult oyster filtering up to 50 gallons of water each day. Billion Oyster Project has developed a process for restoring these essential species to the New York Harbor by repopulating them at several sites around the harbor using strategies and structures to match various underwater conditions.

Oyster reefs were crucial to the New York Harbor before they were wiped out by overharvesting and pollution. Restoring them to local waterways creates diverse habitats for hundreds of species. Once mature, the reefs also have the capacity to protect the city from storm surges, mitigate flooding along dense waterfront communities, and prevent erosion along the shoreline.

"Developing New York City's waterfront in an accessible and resilient way requires nature-based solutions like oyster reef restoration and an active community presence," explains Brian Reagor, Director of Development at Billion Oyster Project. "We are beyond fortunate to have Lendlease's ongoing support in the effort to restore our shared harbor."

For Community Day this year, Lendlease volunteers were fortunate enough to have two different volunteering experiences with Billion Oyster Project. Both volunteer days had incredible autumn weather – perfect for a day outside of the office.

For the first volunteer day, Billion Oyster Project met Lendlease employees on the ferry ride to Governors Island – a 172-acre island only 800 yards from Lower Manhattan – where Billion Oyster Project operates volunteer programming and partners with the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School.

Once on the island, volunteers learned more about Billion Oyster Project’s mission and the importance of oysters in New York City, including the history of the New York Harbor from an environmental and gastronomical perspective.

Up until the early 1900’s, BOP staff explained, NYC oysters were sold by street vendors in the Financial District and were exported all over the world. With increased industrial waterfront activity, inadequate wastewater treatment and overharvesting of oysters, the harbor became too polluted and too depleted to maintain healthy oyster populations. While oyster purveyors no longer hawk their goods along the streets of Lower Manhattan, New Yorkers still love to eat oysters!

After the educational “walk-and-talk,” volunteers had their work cut out for them by cleaning cured oyster, clam and scallop shells. BOP collects discarded shells from more than 70 NYC restaurants and brings them to Governors Island. Volunteers and staff work together to prep the shells to be “set” with oyster larvae and introduced back to their natural environment where they can grow and reproduce in the New York Harbor.

The following week, volunteers visited one of Billion Oyster Project’s field stations at Bush Terminal Park in Brooklyn where BOP partners with local schools on environmental education programming and the greater NYC community on community science initiatives.

Volunteers learned about different species living in and around the oyster reef and even got to identify some of them. The day ended with a tour of additional oyster reef sites and a quick photo moment with a massive oyster.

To learn more about our Community Day and social value initiatives, click here