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Finding Joy, Oysters, Teamwork, and Art in the Pandemic

Nov 13, 2020

Students work outside with oysters

Photo by Emma Comrie

Innovative NYC Partnerships with Scientists and Student on the Hudson River

Students in the NYU Gallatin course “NYC Coastlines: Past, Present, and Future” are examining radical environmental transformations in the past and considering future transformations along the Hudson River. In doing so, the students are now providing the only citizen science collected data for The River Project’s oyster monitoring program for the entire year of 2020, filling a vital gap as volunteer data collectors have dwindled during the pandemic.

Led by Archaeologist and NYU Gallatin Visiting Assistant Professor Karen Holmberg, the students are also doing fieldwork for the Citizens’ Water Quality Testing Project, which is affiliated both with the Billion Oyster Project and The River Project. These partnerships are giving birth to interdisciplinary, student-generated science and art including scientific drawings made from harbor silt, soundscape recordings to accompany photogrammetry data capture, and ethnographic recordings and photographs of NYC fishermen. Following what was meant to be a one-off field trip to monitor oysters, the class was invited back by The River Project to collect more oyster data and also accepted an offer from the Citizens’ Water Quality Testing Project to design their own scientific study and collect water samples from the Hudson, test the samples themselves in a lab, and then analyze and present the data.

“What we’ve been able to find this semester in giving the class immense flexibility to morph around our current circumstances is a sense of joy and freedom in a time period when both of those are a challenge to find,” says Holmberg. “Field data collection is a merging of manual labor and intellectual labor that is inherently collaborative. This is the case whether you are in Patagonia or walking distance from Washington Square along the Hudson River. It has given us a way to be outside and to connect to the dynamic, natural environment in a way that is the opposite of the isolation we felt during COVID lockdown.”

Class members embarked upon a three-week citizen science data collection project for the Citizens’ Water Quality Testing Project, combined with interdisciplinary creative work, on November 11, 2020 in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Billion Oyster Project 
The River Project 
Citizens’ Water Quality Testing Project 
The River Project WetLab (which was recently absorbed by Hudson River Park Trust) will move from Pier 40 down to the newly opened Pier 26 and become The Estuarium.

Karen Holmberg