Can Oyster Art Curb Global Warming?

by John Goetz

Here is an fun press release I ran across on prweb.com. If Ms. Haseltine is successful in her project, we might see more local produce on the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar menu. But will it actually do anything about global warming?

Professor Uses Oysters to Teach College Students to Curb Global Warming

Crassotrea virginica

Crassotrea virginica

Internationally acclaimed environmental artist Mara G Haseltine joined NYC’s The New School for Liberal Arts to teach, Oyster Gardens, the only class of its kind worldwide where the students will focus on the design and planning of a floating oyster colony, an innovative public art project which merges art, sustainable design and field science.

New York, NY (PRWEB) October 16, 2008 — Internationally acclaimed environmental artist Mara G Haseltine joined NYC’s The New School for Liberal Arts to teach Oyster Gardens, the only class of its kind worldwide where the students will focus on the design and planning of a floating oyster colony, an innovative public art project which merges art, sustainable design and field science.

Oyster Gardens celebrates New York’s past as the oyster capital of the world boasting of 350 square miles of bio diverse oyster reef as well as to prepare it for a sustainable future with a bountiful biodiverse estuary. Students learn about the history and the biology of the Crassostrea Virginia, the indigenous oyster of New York, as well as traditional and new innovative methods of reef restoration. In this unique course students work hand in hand with a cross disciplinary team that includes marine engineers, marine biologists, along with conservation organizations to plan and design and a ‘moveable reef’ — a floating oyster colony that could be deployed around the harbor.

The idea is to bring back Crassotrea Virginica to New York, which would create a natural filtration system that cleans the waters and simultaneously brings back biodiversity, that has been missing in New York’s waters and estuaries since the Industrial Revolution. Oysters are the backbone of the benthic habitat and can act as natural water treatment plants. The average oyster filters 5-25 gallons of “nutrient” rich water per day. The restoration of 100 square miles of reef would filter twenty seven billion tons of wastewater that flows into New York’s waterways annually. The reef would not only be a haven for oyster,s but would quickly become a diverse habitat for aquatic life of all forms, from gastropods to stripped bass.

“Global warming is not just an environmental issue. It affects our public health and national security. It’s an urgent matter of survival for everyone on the planet — the most urgent threat facing humanity today,” said Mara Haseltine. “I am thrilled that the New School has given me the opportunity to teach students about how local efforts can have a major global impact in fighting global warming. In an age where the public is constantly hearing about the devastating effects of climate degradation, a class like this offers a beacon of hope,” she added.

At the end of the fall semester the class will mount a small exhibition laying out the final proposal for the large scale floating oyster garden, as well as a series of design experiments for small oyster gardens with the goal that they are constructed and launched in the spring.

This is not Ms. Haseltine’s first work involving oysters, on July 1st 2007 on the Queens waterfront at MacNeil Park in College Point, Mara launched, with a team of marine biologists, the first pilot project to grow a solar-powered oyster reef. The project employed a mineral accretion process known as Biorock, which uses low voltage, direct-current electricity to grow solid limestone underwater. Seedling oysters were affixed to two double-helix-shaped metal sculptures created by Haseltine in her Brooklyn studio. The DNA inspired double-helix shapes merged aesthetic beauty and optimal functionality to the project, and double as educational tools for visitors.

I can see how this class might make students more aware of the ways in which oysters can filter nutrients from water. I can also see how this class might make them more aware of the benefits of biodiversity in a local ecosystem. However, I am hard pressed to see the connection to learning about or producing solutions to global warming. It seems to me the term “global warming” was simply plopped into the press release to get it more attention.

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45 thoughts on “Can Oyster Art Curb Global Warming?

  1. How much funding for this came from the taxpayers?
    If there’s a bandwagon to be jumped on…

  2. Beware unintended consequences. Many a bad outcome has resulted from introducing (or reintroducing) species.

    Can you spell kudzu? Snakehead?

  3. Although not oyster art, my 13 year-old son came home with English homework last night: “describe three ways to save the planet”.

    So I quizzed him: what would he do about war, rogue asteroids, cosmic rays from a nearby exploding star? No, you’re all ahead of me: “it’s climate change, Dad”. I suggested he use my suggestions then point the teacher at me.

    I weep

  4. In an age where the public is constantly hearing about the devastating effects of climate degradation

    Recycled environmental rhetoric.

  5. On reading the first few paragraphs I immediately had a few thoughts, but I see you covered them in your last paragraph. I second your observations therein.

    The effect of oysters on local water quality is important. The effect of those oysters on the CO2 cycle is like spitting into a hurricane.

  6. But what to do with the crop? I don’t think anyone would want to eat them after filtering out all the heavy metals. And the last time I checked oysters were still animals and made CO2.

  7. This is pathetic in so many ways.

    Just to start the list:

    1. From the scientific angle, oysters need relatively ‘clean’ water that will foster the growth of the phytoplankton they feed on. NYC harbor waters hardly qualify because of turbidity, pollutants, and the kind of phytoplankton that live there. This might have a chance 100 miles east at Montauk.

    2. From the aquacultural angle, oyster farms are hard to make work. They’re somewhat labor intensive. Susceptible to problems from diseases (viruses and bacteria that thrive in less than ‘clean’ waters (see 1 above). They need monitoring of the health of the oysters and predators such as starfish.

    3. From a navigational angle, these things can be disruptive, even dangerous, to boat traffic.

    4. From a liability angle, there are issues with safety of the students, impingement on other competing uses of the water, vandalism.

    5. From the artistic angle, where’s the art? I’ve seen aquacultural enterprises and except for sunsets over the floating apparatus and intricately shaped microscopic organisms there’s not a whole lot of beauty in the operation.

    6. From an educational angle, legitimate marine biology courses cover this sort of thing and much more.

    7. From the climate science angle, there are much more useful things to be doing (like surveying the surface stations).

    Okay, I’ll stop now. Feel free to add to the list.

  8. For those not familiar, The New School is a New York City institution for people who want a degree without the, ah, “inconvenienience” of trivia like useful knowledge or intellectual rigor. (On another discussion board pertaining to things military, one of the NS faculty pronounced his theories of startegy and tactics. It didn’t go well for him.)

    It would, however, be an appropriate place to concentrate research on AGW:

    a. It may actually be occuring in their alternate reality.
    b. It allows society to collect all the [persons of dubious connect to reality] in one place to keep an eye on them.

  9. I agree with your last paragraph.

    Personally, I’m glad there are people doing this type stuff. It can’t hurt, it won’t cost much, and we might learn something.

  10. Hmmm…interesting. It is a good idea to reintroduce an indigenous species in hopes that they regrow. If it succeeds, the oysters can lock a lot of carbon up in their shells using the carbon from the water. If they could get the entire floor of the oceans covered with these oysters. Yup, spitting in the wind.

    Kinda reminds me of Mr. Gore who preaches about burning fossil fuels that create CO2 and then goes and buys a huge houseboat that runs on bio-diesel which is from plants which obviously doesn’t create CO2 or any other bad emissions.

    Saving the planet, one bad idea at a time.

    Well, at least they feel good about themselves and that means less anti-depressants in our water, right?

  11. I was wondering if the “stripped” bass from the article were some sort of Girls Gone Wild kind of thing. Guess spelling isn’t one of those things valued at the New School.

  12. Hmm, I thought oyster shells forming carbonates too but no, a quick search found this…

    From http://goingcoastal.wordpress.com/ (16 Oct 08)
    “on July 1st 2007 on the Queens waterfront at MacNeil Park in College Point, Mara launched, with a team of marine biologists, the first pilot project to grow a solar-powered oyster reef. The project employed a mineral accretion process known as Biorock, which uses low voltage, direct-current electricity to grow solid limestone underwater. ”

    Limestone of course being carbonaceous. Now we know.

    So what size of a reef would it take (in tonnes of limestone) to make Manhatten CO2 neutral?

  13. Dickens observed,

    “Poverty and oysters always go together.”

    Oysters were a staple food up until the introduction of modern sewerage systems in the 19th century. These systems pumped human waste out to sea along with feacal borne diseases like typhus (as well as other pollutants). As a result oysters in many areas were no longer safe to eat.

    Dumping our sewage in the street would certainly help oysters. However, I doubt many would find it an acceptable tradeoff.

  14. Maybe we should just eat the oysters, before they go floating around the harbour. I think they were designed for food, not C02 scavengers.

  15. Maybe we should run the sewage through anaerobic digestion units, save considerable money on energy costs, and recycle the water (or, at the very least, release the clean water back into the environment.)

  16. Very intersting; oysters once completely lined the bed and banks of the Hudson. They were decimated by water pollution and commercial over-harvesting. It is encouraging that the Hudson River is actually on the rebound, with water quality improving and oyster populations present, increasing in numbers and extent. I understand there is a pilot study currently underway examining the feasability of large-scale re-seeding. Of course, they would not be fit for human consumption owing to persistance of accumulated PCB’s. But they would greatly benefit water quality and vastly improve general fisheries habitat. The art-teacher’s soft-thinking about an oyster project being a solution to climate-change is confusing though; wonder what’s up with that?

  17. There was a story circulating ten years ago that the water around New York had been cleaned up enough for Teredos to flourish, therefor all the piers started collapsing because Teredos had eaten up the pilings. When the cost analysis on replacing the pilings was completed, it named Greenheart Trees from, guess where, the Amazon rain forest as the best choice for pilings. The replacement process was so costly that a minimum number of piers were rebuilt. That made pier space for the Tall Ships Festivals very hard to find. Here in Seattle, the water in Puget Sound has been cleaned up with the same results, Teredos plus Gribbles. The piers and the sea-wall are being destroyed. The sea wall is now back from the visible waters edge, covered by such things as four lane Alaskan Way, the parking for the cross-Sound ferries, the Seattle Aquarium, and numerous shops, restaurants, and hotels. They built the sea-wall from un-treated wood, probably to save money and because the water was too dirty for Teredos. The Law of Unintended Consequences rules.

  18. Ellie in Belfast, that would depend on how much carbon dioxide was produced in making the reef-building electricity. At first glance this would seem to be a perfect use for wind/solar-generated electricity, since (I assume) the reef-building can accommodate an intermittent power supply. On the other hand, you have to consider the carbon dioxide produced in the manufacture of the wind turbines and solar cells, the respiration of the oysters themselves, the fuel used to place the equipment and oysters, the monitoring, harvest and sequestration of mature oysters (to make room for more), the respiration of the additional workers…

    My head hurts. :-(

  19. Evidently, somehow, global warming is affected by oyster populations. I don’t suppose anyone will ask for Ms. Haseltine to provide some compelling evidence.

    I agree, Anthony, this is an example of using global warming (and peoples fear of it) to garner attention.

  20. In the old days (1970’s or so), New York City sewage was disposed directly into the ocean, no sewage plant. I have not followed the story: Does New York City treat its sewage now or will that also be left to the oysters?

  21. I think Nigal Calder pointed this out in the documentary ” The Great Global Warming Swindle”.

    When he said, that if a biologist, when asking for a grant on the nut gathering behaviour of grey squirrels, added a AGW component so as to study the possibility of a change in that behaviour due to the human influences on the climate…. Then the Grant application would be more likely to succeed.

    … and hey Presto! Squirrels and AGW then become linked in the great waltz of government funding for policy validation.

    Socialism. Tyrannical one moment…. Everywhere the next.

  22. This is abit off topic but nevertheless I find it interesting

    With regards to ice levels measured since 1979.
    In 2007 the Arctic set a record for the LEAST amount of ice, on the other hand the Antarctic set a record for the MOST amount of ice.
    In 2008 there was MORE Arctic ice (in minimum) than in 2007 and in the Antarctic ice (in maximum) there was LESS ice than 2007.

    It seems interesting how in this timeframe the two caps seem to be following the same pattern, yet in completely opposite directions. This does not fit with the AGW belief that both caps should behave in the same way.
    Surely this might an indication of something other than anthro GHGs??? Natural variability in oceanic currents??
    Any comments?

  23. This is an example of where AGW hype and environmental usefulness may actually overlap.
    If oysters can be reintroduced to Long Island Sound and the New York area, that will be a good thing, environmentally. It will help with water quality, biodiversity, etc.
    If people think this will have anything at all to do with the global climate, they are just plain silly.
    But how many good things have been done for silly reasons?
    The fact that the lefty hacks promoting this will never realize or admit that AGW and environmental concerns are two very different issues is one that only time can teach.
    Meanwhile, if the New York area can be cleaned up further, why not?

  24. Some years ago while wandering off on the side streets in the South Street Seaport area of Manhattan (I was waiting for my favorite pub to open), I chanced on a bookstore specializing, of course, in tomes with a nautical theme. The store featured a medium-sized aquarium that, as the description attached told, was filled with untreated water from the notoriously polluted East River. To make a long story short, the aquarium’s contents attested to a vigorous presence of representatives of the animal and vegetable kingdons, including an exquisite sea-horse that looked very much as if it had swum off a chessboard .

    This is, to date, the only sea horse I have ever seen outside of Disney movies and menu covers at sea food restaurants. The fact that such a beautiful creature could, presumably, thrive in such a compromised environment stands in my mind as an emblem of the resilience of nature. As the 19th c. English poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins put it,

    ‘For all that, [i.e. man’s thoughtless degradations of nature] nature is never spent/ There lives the dearest freshness, deep down things.’

    It seems to me that it would behoove self-styled environmentalists to celebrate, occasionally, the enduring power of nature rather than to be constantly harping on human depredations.

  25. The key to the global warming angle is in the “sustainable design” aspect, meaning it will presumably use less energy as well as raw materials to clean up the water than, say a treatment plant. While energy and resource conservation is smart, claiming it will help stop global warming is incredibly dumb.
    ““Global warming is not just an environmental issue. It affects our public health and national security. It’s an urgent matter of survival for everyone on the planet — the most urgent threat facing humanity today,” said Mara Haseltine.”
    What a moron. It is actually Global Warming Alarmist pseudo-science, propaganda, and lies which threatens humanity.

  26. “In the old days (1970’s or so), New York City sewage was disposed directly into the ocean, no sewage plant. I have not followed the story: Does New York City treat its sewage now or will that also be left to the oysters?”

    Yes it does, and the condition of New Jersey beaches has been a prime benficiary.

    Also, NYC has stopped using the northern end of the Hudson Canyon, about 25 miles offshore, as a garbage dump and capped that area, with, again, encouraging effects on the beaches.

  27. “The college idealists who fill the ranks of the environmental movement seem willing to do absolutely anything to save the biosphere, except take science courses and learn something about it.” — P.J. O’Rourke

    For example, learn something about the dynamics of the atmosphere, from AAM to Z…Is there any term in the atmospheric sciences that begins with what our Canadian friends call Zed?

  28. Dodgy Geezer,

    The engineering angle competition indicates that the solution must either (a) Reduce the content of GHGs in the planet’s atmosphere, or (b) Alter the climate system beneficially.

    I would propose that an engineering solution to increase CO2, perhaps to levels of about 1000PPM that many greenhouses do should be a winner as it should beneficially alter the climate system by slowing the current probable natural cycle cooling over the next 30 years(?) and increase plant growth to benefit forest regeneration and food production. If global cooling is not to be, then this would warm us up by perhaps 1.5C and warmer is better. If we can get it higher than 1000PPM that would be just a nice bonus. By the way, OSHA says 5000PPM is the upper limit for workplace exposure (although they didn’t really have any evidence that it was bad above these levels, so they made a conservative choice.

    Increasing clean burning hrdrocarbon use might be a good idea, except to the extent that it may waste our supplies over the next 200 years. A means of coating of exposed carbonate rock to slow the absorption of CO2 due to weathering of limestone could help, but may be impractical.

    So, my grand solution is to dump clam and oyster shells (and any available carbonate rock like limestone) into the nearest volcano to release the carbon from the carbonates. This additionally has the benefit of removing those sharp oyster shells from areas frequented by bathers. Those shells can give you some nasty cuts on you feet, and I should know as I’ve done it quite a few times.

    We should establish aquaculture production areas around the world in close vicinity of volcanoes, so we could quickly get the shells into the volcano and reduce the disposal concerns that arise around shellfish preparation plants.

    Think I could have a winner here?

  29. Oyster shells are primarily calcium, not carbon. If the art students would paint oyster shells with carbon-based paint then they’d be sequestering carbon for as long as the shells are on display.

  30. Hunter touched on an, often, overlooked truth. Many (most?) times the “cleanest” method is the most energy-efficient method.

    As energy resources get more scarce, and thus more expensive, polluting behavior will become less profitable.

  31. AnyMouse,

    They are primarily calcium on an atomic weight (about 40 to 12) and volume basis (roughly (2.23/.91)**3), although there is one Calcium atom for every Carbon atom in Calcium Carbonate (CaCO3), so it’s a 50/50 split as far as # of atoms goes.

    Actually it brings an interesting (ROM) calculation.

    WARNING: Back of the envelope calculation coming….

    The density of the Carbon in the shells is roughly (12/40) x CaCO3 Density of 2.83 g/cm³, = .85 gm/cm3. Compare that to the density in the air from CO2 which is (roughly) (380/1,000,000) x 1.98 gm/l = 0.0007524 gm/l.

    So the weight density of Carbon in shells is (.85 gm/cm**3)/(.0007524 gm/l) = 1,129,718 times greater than the weight density in air.

    I wonder if that’s anywhere close to being right?

  32. Limestone contains varying amounts of calcite, CaCO3, as its primary ingredient.

    What happens when it weathers? Does it truly absorb CO2 as it weathers, as Pete suggests? What is the chemical equation of such weathering? CaCO3 plus CO2 equals ????.

    When continents collide, such as was the case when India crashed into Asia, raising the Himalayas, huge amounts of limestone must have been incorporated into volcanic eruptions, (as well as the existing coal, oil and gas reserves of those continental shelves.) How did the planet handle the out-gassing of so much CO2, and was it in any way similar to current conditions?

    What a wonder this planet is.

  33. Caleb,

    Limestone weathering: CaCO3 + CO2 (dissolved) = Ca(HCO3)2 (calcium bicarbonate).

    Dodgy Geezer,

    thanks for the competition link – I got really excited until i realised the prize is only £500 and probably aimed at students. I have a winning idea and I may be a skeptic but I am also a cynic and funding is funding. But then i couldn’t live with myself if i won – think of all that publicity they’re planning. I’d be smiling in photos and feeling like a hypocrite while I’m really thinking “I don’t believe the world needs CO2 capture”. Perhaps it would be worth it to use the publicity to blast AGW and renounce the prize. That would grab a few (minor) headlines.

    Hmm. Faced with this scenario though, would a scientist or engineer who relies on government research funding take such a risk?? And so the myth perpetuates.

    Re New York City Sewage – Anaerobic digestion is already used to treat sewage sludge in Brooklyn, but the methane produced is flared (i.e. wasted by just burning it). A new installation will use it to produce electricity and heat: Biogas System to be Installed at Brooklyn Wastewater Treatment Facility

    http://www.energyvortex.com/pages/headlinedetails.cfm?id=1983&archive=1

  34. Alex (03:31:29) wrote;
    This is abit off topic but nevertheless I find it interesting
    With regards to ice levels measured since 1979.
    In 2007 the Arctic set a record for the LEAST amount of ice, on the other hand the Antarctic set a record for the MOST amount of ice.
    In 2008 there was MORE Arctic ice (in minimum) than in 2007 and in the Antarctic ice (in maximum) there was LESS ice than 2007.
    It seems interesting how in this timeframe the two caps seem to be following the same pattern, yet in completely opposite directions. This does not fit with the AGW belief that both caps should behave in the same way.
    Surely this might an indication of something other than anthro GHGs??? Natural variability in oceanic currents??
    Any comments?

    From: SVENSMARK: COSMOCLIMATOLOGY

    Cloud tops have a high albedo and exert their cooling effect by scattering back into the cosmos
    much of the sunlight that could otherwise warm the surface. But the snows on the Antarctic ice
    sheets are dazzlingly white, with a higher albedo than the cloud tops. There, extra cloud cover
    warms the surface, and less cloudiness cools it. Satellite measurements show the warming effect
    of clouds on Antarctica, and meteorologists at far southern latitudes confirm it by observation. Greenland too has an ice sheet, but it is smaller and not so white. And while conditions in Greenland are coupled to the general climate of the northern hemisphere, Antarctica is largely isolated by vortices in the ocean and the air.
    .

  35. My back of the envelope calculation forgot to factor in the 3 oxygen atoms weight of about 3 x 16). So I should have written:

    The density of the Carbon in the shells is roughly (12/88) x CaCO3 Density of 2.83 g/cm³, = .386 gm/cm3. Compare that to the density in the air from CO2 which is (roughly) (380/1,000,000) x 1.98 gm/l = 0.000752 gm/l.

    So the density of Carbon in shells is (.386 gm/cm**3)/(.000752 gm/l) = 513,000 times greater than the weight density in air.

  36. Interesting post on Brooklyn Anaerobic Digestion, Ellie; Thanks.

    They’re, also, doing this in Rialto, Ca. There, and in some other Ca districts they’re doing fuel cells powered by biogas.

  37. “For those not familiar, The New School is a New York City institution for people who want a degree without the, ah, “inconvenienience” of trivia like useful knowledge or intellectual rigor.”

    This was not always the case with the New School, which makes the situation even sadder. In the 1930’s, it was a ‘University in Exile’, a haven for many scholars from Central Europe who were forced to flee for their lives, among them Leo Strauss (briefly), Hans Jonas and Hannah Arendt, three thinkers who most assuredly meet the gold standard of ‘intellectual rigor’. Arendt continued to teach political philosophy at the New School well into the 1970’s.

  38. ‘Brooklyn Anaerobic Digestion’

    If you prefer aerobic digestion, Lundy’s on Sheepshead Bay comes highly recommended.

  39. I don’ t understand why people have to be so negative, Ms Haseltine is an artist not a scientist and at least she is doing something to motivate young minds to do something about global warming. The work in her website is pretty amazing! I think the class sounds really interesting.

    We can only hope there are more people like this artist doing what they can to bring a solution to this problem.

    What are you doing to prevent global warming?

  40. “We can only hope there are more people like this artist doing what they can to bring a solution to this problem.
    What are you doing to prevent global warming?”

    I have placed my throne at the edge of Global Warming and ordered the tide of heat to turn away from my royal presence. It is working. See here:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/10/30/chill-in-the-air-part-2-us-breaks-or-ties-115-of-cold-and-sets-63-new-snowfall-records/

    If more artists would order heat away we could be soon in the middle of our own wonderful little ice age.

  41. I actually have met Mara Haseltine in person while working in Singapore. Mara Haseltine was the winner for the installation located in the “Epi-Center” of Singapore’s Biotech mecca “Biopolis,” which was designed by architect Zaha Hadid. The project was to create an outsized bronze sculpture for outdoors depicting the functioning of the SARS Protease Inhibitor, which was discovered by an international team of scientists working at Biopolis. As a scientist involved in that particular project I have to say that seeing our discovery transformed into art in such an exquisite manner was one of those moments that I will cherish for the rest of my life. A truly unique once in a lifetime experience.

    To talk down of such a talented and bright young woman is to admit your deep ignorance of her work and artistic vision. You should visit her website calamara.com and see her fantastic body of work!

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