This summer, I will be conducting a research project focusing on water quality with Dr. Palta. Our study location is Coney Island Creek, which is a heavily polluted waterbody in Brooklyn, NY. The area surrounding the creek is mostly used for industrial and commercial purposes, which has contributed to its environmental degradation. Additionally, the creek is home to 8 combined sewage outfalls and MS4s (stormwater), which contribute to water pollution. Currently, very little is known about the water quality conditions and sources of pollution at our study location. The Billion Oyster Project has placed an oyster cage in Coney Island Creek with the hopes that they will survive and improve water quality conditions.
In high school, I became interested in oysters and their potential to improve water quality conditions because of the Billion Oyster Project’s work. They have oyster restoration sites across New York City, where citizens can practice stewardship and collect data on oysters and the water quality conditions in their environment. Before I was involved in this, I was unaware that oysters used to be a huge part of New York City’s ecology and economy. It was shocking to find out that New York City was once referred to as the “oyster capital of the world,” because I have always thought of our waters to be polluted. Today, oysters are now considered to be ecologically extinct in our waterways and no longer provide ecosystem services. Learning this is what pushed me to study this topic.
While oysters have historically kept waterways clean, we don’t know if they still have the capacity to do so. Considering how polluted Coney Island Creek is, this is important to explore. Our research focuses on the water quality conditions, sources of water pollution, and the role of oysters within the creek. The purpose of this study is to determine the total amount of nitrogen load to the creek, and how much nitrogen the restored oysters may be removing from the system.
The title of our study is: Can filter feeders restore water quality in Coney Island Creek?: The role of mussels and oysters in nitrogen removal. To answer our research question, we have selected 8 site locations spanning the creek to sample. Our sites were chosen based on their proximity to combined sewage and MS4 outfalls. At each location, we will be measuring dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, velocity, and collecting water samples once a week. Our samples will be taken during dry and rainy events, and during low and high tide. From this, we will be able to create a nutrient budget for Coney Island Creek. This will allow us to begin to understand the creek’s general conditions and how that fluctuates over time. From this research, I will learn a great deal about the water quality conditions of this waterbody and how sources of pollution impact it. I also expect to determine if oysters are able to influence nutrient concentrations through their filter-feeding capacities. Overall, this work may help inform future restoration efforts, especially ones involving bivalves, in Coney Island Creek and in general.