NEW YORK (Circa) — At 8.6 inches and 1.93 pounds, “Big” is the largest oyster found in the Hudson River in nearly a hundred years.
The giant oyster was plucked by a construction diver just before it would have been covered in cement during a repair project on Pier 40 in the New York Harbor.
The oyster was delivered to the neighboring River Project, an environmental group studying water quality and the species living in the Hudson.
“We tried to weigh it on our triple beam balance and it maxed out the scale,” says Melissa Rex of the River Project.
Based on its growth rings, Big is estimated at 15-25 years old.
“The fact that we’re seeing wild oysters in increasing size and increasing age tells us that Oyster restoration in the area has improved and that water quality is improved,” Rex says. “Which is good news for the entire ecosystem.”
Oysters are called a keystone species, meaning that they have a dramatic effect on their environment. They provide valuable shelter and habitat for other organisms. They also improve the water quality in the New York Harbor.
“One of the big functions of oysters in the ecosystem are as ecosystem engineers because they physically build structures as they grow,” Rex says. Oysters also feed on krill, so they are a natural water filtration system that allow more sunlight into the water so plants can grow.
The Hudson River was once a hot bed for oysters, however, by the early 1900s, overharvesting and pollution caused dramatic declines in the population. In recent years, New York City has made efforts to restore the water quality of the Hudson and create a more livable ecosystem for marine life. Researchers hope Big is a sign that those efforts are working.
“A lot of people think the Hudson river is a dead river,” Rex says. “This oyster is a great example that this is not the case at all.”