DUMBO — Of all the things found in New York’s waters, this has got to be the cutest.
A group of nine students from the Dr. Susan S. McKinney Secondary School of the Arts in Fort Greene found a 6-inch lined seahorse in an oyster restoration station under the Manhattan Bridge at Brooklyn Bridge Park earlier this week.
The middle school students, led by their teacher Rachelle Travis, were collecting data for the Billion Oyster Project, a New York Harbor Foundation initiative which aims to restore and clean the city’s harbor by installing oyster reefs.
As the students tested water quality and measured oysters, they found the tiny seahorse in one of the oyster-restoration systems — one of several mesh cages placed around the harbor that contains hundreds of tiny oysters and other organisms that keep the water clean.
While a seahorse sighting isn’t completely out of the ordinary in New York waters anymore, the harbor wasn’t always such an inviting habitat for sea creatures.
“Twenty years ago, it would have been very uncommon,” said Susannah Black, a spokeswoman for the New York Harbor foundation. “These days it’s not uncommon.”
Since the Environmental Protection Agency enacted the Clean Water Act of 1972, the harbor has been improving by “leaps and bounds,” Black said.
While oyster reefs once covered 220,000 acres of the Hudson River estuary, the water-filtering creatures are now functionally extinct in the New York Harbor due to pollution and over-harvesting, according to the Project’s website.
In the last six years, the Project has restored more than an acre of the harbor’s reefs and grown more than 19 million oysters.
Black emphasized that while the oysters have helped purify the water, they’re still not safe to eat.
Aside from keeping the water clean, oyster restoration stations promote biodiversity in the waters around New York, attracting creatures like mud crabs and seahorses.
Black said the oyster restoration stations are the perfect habitats for seahorses and other creatures, who like to live in a structured environment as opposed to the open water.
“There’s a lot more life in the harbor than people think there is,” Black said. “We’re working to bring even more of it back.”