Systematizing Governors Island Ecosystem’s w/ spurse

Last Friday (August 26, 2011) I attended another fieldwork session created by spurse in conjunction with the BMW Guggenheim Lab. This was one in a series of charette/vinettes that spurs is calling “Live Feeds“. The original plan of visiting some constructed wetlands and other systematized ecological systems in New Jersey’s Meadowlands had to be abandoned due to Riverkeeper (our wetland tour-guide) pulling their boats off the water in preparation for Hurricain Irene. We instead ventured to Govenors Island, which is a beautiful, semi-car free, island just South of Manhattan and across the Buttermilk Channel from Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. This was a FeedForward session connected to the FeedBack session two days before that focused on the “Self as System“. Unfortunately i was not able to attend the FeedBack session but I would speculate that, based on prior event., it placed the attendees in a quandary of viewpoints concerning systems (particularly waste systems this week) and how our individual waste relates and contributes to societies waste and how this waste could be reconsidered to be something more, even as nutrient, to some other overlooked systems. I hate I missed it. Friday’s Lab was a fieldwork session entitled “The System as Ecosystem” and even though it was a different trip than originally planned I feel it probably met most of the programmed points and topics that would have been discussed in the Meadowlands.

Again the spurse crew had a bit of literature for the lab experiment participants to look over as we where in transit to our fieldwork destination. This time they had I read a recent New York Times article entitled “New York – Empire of Evolution” which we read on the M15 Select Bus Service (which the B_G Lab paid for) as we headed to the Governors Island Ferry Terminal. We discussed the article amongst ourselves as we walked to the ferry. It is a good read and goes a long way on pointing out that this metropolis cannot be seen as purely cultural. There are too many natural aspects of the city to mention but the article goes in depth about the way the city has cause certain populations of with footed mice to evolve and how traffic patterns between roadway medians has created an artificial yet relevant pattern of habitation by different types of ants. Upon boarding and departing Iain introduced the group to Carter Craft from the New York Harbor School, and he gave us a brief overview of today’s the Governors Island, the Harbor School and their oyster reef. Once on the Island Iain, Petia and Jean from spurse introduced the assignment and challenged us to think beyond waste as we filter the cultural and natural ramifications of the issue.

Here are some pics from the outing::

spurse,Harbor School,NYC,oyster,oysters,oyster  reef,Governors Island,BMW Guggenheim Lab,ecology,Hudson  River,restoration  spurse,Harbor School,NYC,oyster,oysters,oyster  reef,Governors Island,BMW Guggenheim Lab,ecology,Hudson  River,restoration

getting a bit of orientation before heading over the the dock/oyster reef                      getting a bit of orientation before heading over the the dock/oyster reef

  spurse,Harbor School,NYC,oyster,oysters,oyster  reef,Governors Island,BMW Guggenheim Lab,ecology,Hudson River,PV  cells,photovoltaic,solar  energy,restoration  spurse,Harbor School,NYC,oyster,oysters,oyster  reef,Governors Island,BMW Guggenheim Lab,ecology,Hudson  River,restoration 

These photovoltaic energy cells collect energy which runs the pumps needed           The building in the background here is a future outpost of the Harbor School and they

to run the floating upwelling system.                                                                             will have more oyster reefs under the structure directly accessible from the schools lab.

spurse,Harbor School,NYC,oyster,oysters,oyster reef,Governors Island,BMW Guggenheim Lab,ecology,Hudson River,restoration  spurse,Harbor School,NYC,oyster,oysters,oyster reef,Governors Island,BMW Guggenheim Lab,ecology,Hudson River,restoration

me getting some close up footage of the oysters and the floating upwelling system    Water flows up through the silos and out through the central trough


I also took a few short and shakey video clips::

In the first clip Iain Kerr, of the spurse collective (which is organizing the Live Feeds at the BMW Guggenheim Lab) points out the innocuous man-made oyster reef from the shore of Governors Island

Here, Carter Craft, of the New York Harbor School, tells us about the traditional function of oyster reefs.

Carter tells us a little bit about the materials and construction of the oyster reef.

Carter comments on the lifecycle of oysters in general and where these oysters will end up.

Essentially we took a look at how human intervention into natural system has historically disturbed and destroyed ecological systems and introduced pollution while throwing balanced systems off kilter. Over the years we have tried to produce heavy handed engineering solutions to clean up our natural indiscretions but in the end these are expensive and not very affective. Recently we have been looking towards nature to help us lessen our environmental footprint. Although I have thought bout this plenty in the past, one of my favorite books is Janine Benyus‘ “Biomimicry“, I see this as less of an opportunity to decrease out negative footprint and to actually increase our positive impact. While this is less about biomimicry, as it is quite straightforward  with man-made oyster reefs. It is another means of creating a system that relies on nature to help fix some serious problems we have created in our man-made environments by artificially introducing it or creating a situation where a natural process can thrive where it otherwise couldn’t and sitting back to let nature do its business. Of course, all the while, we are constantly poking, prodding, sampling and testing to see how we can accelerate and maximize the process.

I guess I’ve been a bit vague here. In this specific instance, oysters no longer thrive in the waterways of New York due to channelization and complete eradication of any protected shallow water areas where oysters could colonize. By creating a reef on a dock by means of the floating upwelling system that pumps water into the silos and out through the central trough which contain the introduced oysters. They then filter the water as bivalves do, sucking in “polluted” (or nutrient rich) water and “eating” or metabolizing the “pollutants” which are actually nutrients for them. Pollutants such as heavy metals end up sequestered in the shells and persistent toxins such as PCBs and neurotoxins like domoic acid end up in the soft muscle tissue inside the shell (which is why these oysters ARE NOT FOR EATING). They serve a very specific function in this environment and this is not the traditional function that so many people love oysters for, you can’t shuck these and serve them raw or bake them or dess them to make oysters Rockefeller, but they are nonetheless very useful and efficient in terms of cleaning up a legacy of polluted water. After many generation of oyster reef regeneration the waters may be up to a point where the oysters that grow in currently polluted waters like those of the New York/New Jersey Harbor these bivalves may have cleaned things up enough (and we may have stopped dumping our pollutants into open waters enough) for these delectable shellfish to be harvested and eaten once again. This would be a beautiful restoration of a culinary heritage for the area and I am truly hopeful.

Best wishes and heartiest of thanks to the Harbor School and all the others involved with doing the hard work of securing funding, changing the minds of bureaucrats, educating the youth and believing in such a radical idea as nature and change. I challenge all of you to think beyond this particular natural system of oyster to clean the water and help realize and encourage other ecological services.


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