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Oyster Reefs Protected New York Harbor From Storms

Monday, March 07, 2016

New York oysters AMHERST, MASSACHUSETTS—Oyster reefs in New York Harbor provided protection from floods and storm waves, according to Jon Woodruff and Christine Brandon of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While investigating sand deposits left by Hurricane Sandy, Woodruff and Brandon discovered that there was no record of storm deposits prior to the period between 1600 and 1800. “If it were just one site it would have been one thing, but at every site we saw the same: no storm deposits for thousands of years before European settlement and then after colonization, storm waves start to become more and more effective in transporting sand inland to our field sites,” Woodruff said in a press release. “We kept reaching dead ends until we considered one of the largest impacts European settlers had on New York Harbor, the decimation of its natural oyster beds,” he explained. Philip Orton at Stevens Institute of Technology tested the idea with a circulation and wave simulation model. The team also collected core sediment samples dating back about 3,000 years. They found as much as a 200 percent increase in wave energy with the loss of the oyster beds. To read in-depth about prehistoric North Americans' relationship to coastal environments, go to "The Edible Landscape."

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