Study offers pearls of wisdom in contested New York oyster restoration

March 26, 2018

ITHACA, N.Y. - In addition to being a tasty delicacy, oysters provide a variety of ecosystem services. They filter water and cycle vital nutrients. By cementing themselves into complex shell reefs, they provide habitat for hundreds of invertebrate and fish species and reduce storm surges and erosion. These characteristics make oysters a unique tool for restoring polluted coastal waterways.

However, oyster restoration has been a hotly contested issue in urban regions like New York City, where public health regulations have closed the surrounding polluted waters for commercial and recreational oyster harvesting. These regulations have also limited oyster restoration projects, fearing that poached oysters could wind up on dinner plates and sicken consumers as well as harm restaurants and aquaculture businesses. Such rules essentially pit conservationists and nongovernmental organizations that favor oyster restoration against state environmental agencies and industry members.

A new study finds these stakeholder groups actually share many of the same concerns, notably risks to public health and the economy, while also acknowledging the potential ecological benefits. This means that both groups may be receptive to similar appeals for oyster restoration projects in the future.

"There is a lay theory in the scientific literature that if you want to bolster support for oyster restoration, you have to design messages that are different for nongovernmental organizations and restoration advocates compared to commercial aquaculture folks who do the harvesting and farming," said Jason Holley, the paper's lead author and a Ph.D. student in the field of communication at Cornell University. "Essentially what we found is no, we don't have to design messages that are tailored to these specific groups. It's interesting because it runs counter to the common assumption."

Study co-author Katherine McComas, professor in the Department of Communication, added: "When you take into consideration the perceived risks and perceived benefits and the confidence in the regulating authorities, it's not group membership that predicts support for oyster restoration. It's how people perceive these other aspects."

The researchers focused on the Hudson-Raritan Estuary, an area bordered by the Raritan Bay and the East River. The estuary is an ideal location for oysters, which thrive in intermediate zones where they can avoid predators and pathogens from the ocean as well as the fresh water they would encounter farther upriver. While oysters were once abundant in the estuary, overfishing and the rise of urbanization depleted most populations, although there are still outliers. For example, there is a vibrant oyster population near the Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (formerly the Tappan Zee Bridge). Overall, however, the waterways around the five boroughs are sufficiently polluted that oyster harvesting and consumption have been stopped by regulatory authorities.

"From a regulatory sense, there is a lot of hesitation to scale up oyster restoration because of the risk that poached oysters will get into the marketplace and make people sick or get into the headlines and curb appetites," said study co-author Matthew Hare, associate professor in the Department of Natural Resources. "Either one of those things could have negative impacts on the commercial fishery and aquaculture that is elsewhere in the state and in New England."

The researchers found that support for oyster restoration was tied less to group membership than to the perceived risks to public health and the economy and perceived ecological benefits. And that knowledge could help both sides find some middle ground.
The study, "Troubled Waters: Risk Perception and the Case of Oyster Restoration in the Closed Waters of the Hudson-Raritan Estuary," was supported by Cornell University's Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and was published in Marine Policy.

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews. For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to