The Heroes of the Billion Oyster Project

Photographer Ben Von Wong profiles the students at New York Harbor School who are contributing to the Billion Oyster Project.

Courtesy of Ben Von Wong

The Billion Oyster Project has an ambitious goal: to restore one billion oysters to New York Harbor. The organization has raised nearly 20 million so far. Even more amazing, many of the people doing the heavy lifting to achieve this goal aren’t old enough to drive.

The project is supported by a five-year grant from Science Sandbox, the Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to public engagement with science.

Students at New York Harbor School are scuba diving, designing underwater equipment and raising oyster larvae — all part of the effort to restore New York Harbor to its former status as a thriving, biodiverse estuary. In exchange for their contributions to the project, students gain a clearer understanding of their communities and the role the harbor has played in the city’s development.


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To date, the Billion Oyster Project has partnered with more than 50 restaurants to collect repurposed shells and provided more than 50 schools with resources that enable teachers to use oyster restoration to teach math and science.

Ben Von Wong, a conceptual photographer based in San Francisco, learned about the project through conversations with Science Sandbox staff at a retreat hosted by the National Academy of Sciences. He connected with the Billion Oyster Project and traveled to New York City to visit the project’s headquarters on Governors Island, and to profile the students working on the project.

With the help of large production crews of talented volunteers he meets online, Von Wong creates magical-looking scenes that look almost fake, a quality that often leads to heated debates about their authenticity. Shared through social media channels, the eye-catching images often go viral, bringing broad awareness to conservation issues and social-impact projects Von Wong partners with. The video profile of the Billion Oyster Project shoot was viewed over 6 million times within weeks of being posted on Facebook.

See more from Ben’s profile here.

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