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Floating Oyster Gardens Balance Art and Sustainability

NEW YORK, US - 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.


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"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"
Mara Haseltine

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.

Ellen Hardy

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