The Preservation Diaries

On The Waterfront: All Shiny and New?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
The Preservation Diaries

By Susan Kathryn Hefti
Special to The Clyde Fitch Report

When Henry Hudson sailed off course in 1609 — he had been hired by the Dutch to find a northeast passage to the Orient — his 3,000-mile detour revealed a bounty of unexpected wonders, sowing the seeds for what eventually gave birth to the greatest city on earth.

Sailing the Halve Maen (Half Moon) — a replica of which can still be glimpsed along the river that bears his name – into what later became known as the New York Harbor, the rustic waterfront must have sparkled to Hudson with the promise of an uncut diamond. Crawling with beaver — whose pelts would soon be converted by Europe’s lucrative fur trade into gold — the riverbanks were preposterously rich in flora and fauna alike. And the salty water slapping at the hull of the ship as Hudson cut a swath through the uncharted waves teemed with a roster of fish and shellfish even more exhaustive than the daily menu at the Oyster Bar.

In fact, according to Pete Malinowski, who oversees the Oyster Restoration Research Project at the newly minted Harbor School on Governor’s Island, the waters into which Hudson sailed were so densely populated with life that the thicket of oysteries would have posed a “navigational hazard” to a less experienced captain. And while New York City’s waterways, battered and barren from centuries of dredging and pollution, may never again boast such an embarrassment of riches, Malinowksi told me in a recent phone interview that by 2050, the Harbor School hopes to see “5,000 acres of oyster beds” reintroduced along Gotham’s shoreline.

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