The World is Our Oyster
Faces - The Magazine of People, Places and Cultures for Kids|April 2020
New Yorkers are resilient. As the song, “New York, New York” goes, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. There’s no better example of a tough, hard-working New Yorker than the mighty oyster.
By Barbara Lerman-Golomb

In the early 1600s, there were 220,000 acres of oyster reefs in what is now New York City. The waterways were pristine, teeming with diverse marine species— whales, otters, turtles, a huge variety of fish, and mollusks like oysters. Oysters were a plentiful food source for the Lenape, the original inhabitants of Mannahatta, which means “island of many hills.” The Lenape ate lots and lots of oysters. How do we know? Archeologists have discovered tremendous piles of oyster shells, which they call middens. Several hundred middens have been identified around New York City, which is a small fraction of how many there once were. Oyster shells are so hardy that some ancient piles are 12,000 years old.

Oysters are saltwater bivalve mollusks that live in habitats where fresh water meets seawater, such as an estuary like New York Harbor. A single oyster works hard, filtering about 50 gallons of water per day, helping to keep it clean. The original oyster population could filter all the​ water in New York Harbor in a few days.

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