Restoring Health to the New York Harbor

A chilly morning in New York Harbor, and Mikey DeTemple welcomes the crunch of oyster shells beneath his Sperry BIONIC® sneakers, as he tells us about the importance of the creatures to the health of the harbor.

For this world-renowned photographer and filmmaker, who grew up the son of a clammer on Long Island, these glistening bivalves are a heartening sight.

“Oysters are nature’s greatest water cleaners.”

DeTemple has come down to Governor’s Island, braving the chill Atlantic wind, to photograph the results of the Billion Oyster Project—a massive restoration initiative that’s helped New York’s oysters come roaring back to life. By 2035, the Billion Oyster Project expects to distribute one billion live oysters around New York’s acres of reefs, so the Harbor can reclaim its title as the oyster capital of the world.



“Progressively, this is the next logical step after you remove plastics from the water. You fill it with oysters.”

Here at the doorstep of America’s largest city, the world’s most prolific natural oyster habitat had grown lifeless over the course of the twentieth century, due in large part to plastic pollution. “Oysters can’t survive in water that’s filled with plastic,” Mikey says. That’s because oysters are filters—in fact, a single oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water in 24 hours. But today, thanks to the good work of organizations like Sperry and the Billion Oyster Project, people are finding new ways to keep plastics out of waterways. 



“I think change is happening.”

Mikey has spent most of his life in or near water—and he’s used his platforms as a surfer, photographer and filmmaker to draw attention to the issue of single-use plastic pollution. For Mikey, wearing shoes made from recycled bottles is just one more way of educating people about the problem of plastic in the oceans. “All these little things, wearing these shoes, starting these conversations, add up to one big thing,” he says. 

Mikey sees his Sperry BIONIC shoes as a perfect way to combat the plastic issue. Each pair is woven from, on average, five recycled plastic bottles recovered from coastal areas. That’s five bottles that won’t end up in our waters, making it possible for organizations like Billion Oyster Project to continue their good work of bringing our oceans, bays and waterways back to a natural state. Indeed, Mikey DeTemple views these shoes—like the oyster shells they stand upon—as a sign of hope. He cites Sperry and the Billion Oyster Project as organizations that lift his spirits. 

“Those aren’t government agencies that are doing that,” he says. “Those are people doing that. People who love the water.” 



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