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New York's Oyster History Stars in New Documentary

SOUTH STREET SEAPORT — New York Harbor was once a pearl in the oyster trade, and now that history will be the centerpiece of a new documentary film.

SHELLSHOCKED: Saving Oysters to Save Ourselves, a 40-minute film chronicling the history of oysters in the Hudson River, will hold its New York premiere Oct. 18 at the South Street Seaport Museum.

Director and filmmaker Emily V. Driscoll, 32, said she was unaware of the once-large oyster population in New York until she began reporting on initiatives in 2009 to bring the mollusks back to the harbor.

“I grew up in New York City and I really didn’t know anything about why people said New York was once the oyster capital world,” she said. “But then I heard that New York was trying to bring oysters back on a large scale.”

Driscoll said the decline in the once-vibrant population dates back to early 20th-century efforts to destroy oyster beds, noting that many immigrants attributed sicknesses to consumption of the mollusks.

Today, scientists have ascribed the ailments to polluted waters, she said.

Driscoll documented individual and organized efforts to replenish the oyster population, including interviews with an oyster artist who creates sculptures that double as sea habitats for larvae, and the Hudson River Foundation's research program that seeks to replenish the Hudson’s oysteries by creating 5,000 acres of inhabitable underwater space by 2050.

“They don’t expect to restore it to what it was previously,” Driscoll said. “But the film looks at all of the different efforts to bring oysters back. It’s about thinking globally, and acting locally.”

The film, which has been screened in several other countries including Canada and China, will also be playing at the South Street Seaport Museum Saturday, Oct. 20, every hour beginning at 10 a.m.