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Location: Brooklyn, NY, United States

08 November 2013

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell

The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell by Mark Kurlansky recounts the history of New York and the surrounding waterways...and how we destroyed an ecological marvel to rival the Everglades.

Told from the time of the first European contact with the Lenape Indians up through the year 1999, Kurlansky explains the history of New Yorks estuaries through the life and consumption of oysters. At one time New York was famous for oysters, which grew in most of the waterway from the Hudson to the Gowanus canal. At one time oysters were New York's biggest export.

Oysters, along with apparently being delicious, clean the water in which they live. They pull in sea water and extract the nutrients expelling the water cleaner than it was.But with colonization and the influx of more people than the land was used to supporting, plus their habit of dumping waste and sewage in the water, the beautiful and clean water around Manhattan began to show signs of oyster die off.

Highlighting some of the many colorful characters who helped shape the city of New York, Kurlansky tells the ecological impact of the area. He shows how a rich, beautiful estuary can become what it is today - including the once oyster-rich Gowanus canal that is now a Superfund site of toxic waste. The Big Oyster is a fascinating and important read for all New Yorkers.

Kurlansky, Mark. (2006). The Big Oyster. New York: Random House.

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