RED HOOK — Twelve-year-old Amere Ward learned all about oysters during an “Oyster Restoration Program” in Red Hook that teaches students about their history, biology and value to the city waters.
But after he downed his fifth or sixth oyster, Amere learned that they didn’t taste so bad either.
Groups of 25 middle school students in Red Hook met for the weeklong program, this summer, created through a partnership between the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public school with a focus on maritime education, and Good Shepherd Services, a social service and youth development agency.
The program covers all things oysters including their “ecological service” to the harbor, the biology behind how they clean the water and growing them in the Brooklyn waterfront.
“What we’re doing is restoring the native oyster population,” said Sam Janis, restoration program manager of the New York Harbor Foundation and New York Harbor School.
The program also teaches the students about aqua engineering, robotics and organizes kayaking trips on the Brooklyn waterfront.
“They live in this abundant marine community,” said Janis. “[The program] makes it very tangible for the kids.”
The project is a part the Harbor School’s aquaculture program and the “Billion Oyster Project," in which they hope to restore one billion oysters to the New York Harbor in the next ten years, he said.
At the end of the week, each group of students install an “oyster garden,” which holds 300 to 500 oysters, at the pier behind Red Hook’s Ikea.
Oysters suck in harbor water and filter out sediment that can be found in the polluted New York Harbor, which helps clean the waterway, said Janis.
At the end of the week, the students meet for an oyster festival, where they play oyster toss, make oyster art and of course, sample the raw delicacy with lemon, horse radish and cocktail sauce.
Zach Perez, 12, wasn’t a big fan of eating oysters but, during the program, he learned that if they could clean up the water, Red Hook could have more activities on the pier.
“The water is nasty,” said Zach, during the oyster festival, last week. ”Everyone should help bring the oysters back.”
Skyla Lowe, 12, thought the oysters looked slimy but said learning about oysters was a fun and new experience.
“It will help our community every day,” said Skyla, adding that her favorite part of the week was kayaking on the waterfront.
While many of the young students understood how oysters could help their neighborhood, most weren’t keen on tasting the sea creature.
Except Amere, who didn’t seem to mind their repulsion.
“There’s more for me,” he said. “I’m [going] to 10.”