These kids are only 16 years old

They are students of the New York Harbor School and part of the Billion Oyster project: an initiative designed to restore the underwater ecosystem of the New York Harbor by growing a few oysters. And by a few, I mean one billion.

Students collaborating to weld oyster cages – Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO100, 16mm, f/7.1, 1/50 with Broncolor

Their goal: To grow One Billion Oysters

I first heard of them through the Simons Foundation during a retreat hosted by the National Academy of Sciences designed to connect storytellers with scientists. I was instantly hooked by the project – why did more people not know about this crazy ambitious project? Who were these kids? How could I help them?

I decided to fly over to New York City and learn more about these young heroes.

Alberto going through their latest collection of oyster shells from BOP restaurant partners – Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO100, 16mm, f/5.0, 1/125 with Broncolor

They believe that if enough oysters are grown in the harbor, the river can heal itself

What I discovered was a small army of passionate students, fighting against insurmountable odds, to protect and restore the waters that most have given up on. Speak to almost anyone living in Manhattan, and they would rather be shot than to take a dip in the Hudson river.

Not so for these students.

Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO400, 16mm, f/4.0, 1/125 with Nauticam Housing

I wanted to know who these heroes were.

I gathered my gear, a little band of volunteers and a team of videographers to go on a small adventure to discover what these kids were working on.

This is their story:

Video by Krishna Yalla

These were kids working through the weekends

I learned that once upon a time, the Hudson River was home to billions and billions of oysters. Unfortunately, due to over-fishing and pollution, they went nearly extinct.These student believe that with a large enough oyster population, they can restore a thriving marine ecosystem.

Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO125, 16mm, f/13, 1/250 with Broncolor

To monitor the growth of oysters and other sea creatures

Around the Oyster nurseries, dramatic increases in local biodiversity around reef installations could be observed. A wide range of species such as black sea bass, oyster toad fish, blue crabs and seahorses were all starting to come back.

Jared and Gracie – inspecting the oysters and checking in on their health – Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO100, 16mm, f/5.6, 1/640 with Broncolor

Study the impact that the oyster nurseries were having on the water

Water quality and clarity in the vicinity of reef installations were also vastly improved. Oysters have a super power: they can improve water quality by filtering algae and detritus from the water.

Mahambe & Melanie monitoring oyster nurseries –  Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO800, 16mm, f/4.0, 1/125 with Nauticam Housing

And learn new cutting edge technologies

And when the waters were too dirty, students would operate underwater drones capable of monitoring reef sites to take pictures and monitor temperature, salinity and turbidity.

Shot on the Sony A7r-ii, 16-35mm | ISO125, 16mm, f/5.0, 1/50 with Broncolor

These kids were changing the world.

It is so easy these days to get caught up on how much the world is spiralling out of the control – but there are amazing people out there that are fighting to make a difference and those are the ones we should focus on and celebrate.

As a photographer and campaign creator, I feel like my role is to help tell these amazing stories and initiatives that are out there. By celebrating these students and showing how amazing they are – I hope that it inspires others to follow in their footsteps. If you live in New York City and want to help support these amazing kids, check out the Billion Oyster Project‘s website!

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  • Korey J Smith

    This is an amazing story. Also love the photos and the details you have

  • Laurel C Anderson

    This is pretty cool.

  • Thuy Vu

    I really love the action in the photo. It is so dynamic

  • Kit Ludwig

    what a great story and oppurtunity. well done.