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Urban Environmentalist, Pete Malinowski

Combining his passions for marine conservation and public education, Pete Malinowski aims to reintroduce one billion oysters to New York Harbor to revitalize a long neglected ecosystem.

Meet the Tide Turners, Changemakers taking vital action for the global ocean and their communities

Pete Malinowski, 2022 Tide Turner

In his work as Co-Founder and Executive Director of Billion Oyster Project, Pete Malinowski — alongside thousands of school students and volunteers — restores oyster reefs to increase New York Harbor’s resilience to climate change and heavy pollution.

Pete’s Story

One of six kids, Pete grew up on a tiny island in New York, where he helped out on his parents’ oyster farm. He struggled in school, but found himself thriving when studying oyster farming at home with a more experiential, hands-on approach. This in turn inspired Pete to get into teaching after college. He moved to New York City and met Murray Fisher, the founder of Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school dedicated to connecting students with the marine environment and maritime careers. Pete taught aquaculture at the Harbor School for five years — and it was there that the idea for Billion Oyster Project was born.

New York Harbor was once a thriving ecosystem, home to 220,000 acres of oyster reefs — but these were almost completely destroyed because of urbanization and pollution over the course of the 1800s and early 1900s. New York City used to be the oyster capital of the world, and so fusing this historical fact with the reputation of oysters as “ecosystem engineers,” Pete and Murray founded Billion Oyster Project in 2014. Their goal? Bring one billion oysters back to New York Harbor by 2035 and restore it to its rightful place as an ecological treasure, with the input of students at the Harbor School and volunteers across New York City.

Pete wants to preserve and protect the natural environment and to improve ocean access for different communities, especially young people, so they have the opportunity to be as fascinated by marine life as he was growing up. “There is nowhere people are more disconnected from nature than in cities,” Pete says. New York Harbor is the largest open natural space in the city by far, and yet, access is very limited. Teaching oyster restoration, Pete hopes to support a diversity of students to learn self-reliance, collaboration, and leadership and to be environmental problem solvers.

Billion Oyster Project
Steven DeWitt / Witness Tree Media

Since Billion Oyster Project was established, New York Harbor’s marine species are showing signs of bouncing back — Pete has spotted seahorses, pufferfish, sea robins, common crabs, red beard sponges, just to name a few, near Billion Oyster Project reefs — but much more work remains to be done.

Funds from The Tide, a global community of monthly donors, will contribute to the production of around 50 million oysters by the end of 2022. During spring and summer, the Billion Oyster Project team of staff, students, and volunteers will seed these oysters on reefs made using 180,000 pounds of recycled, cured oyster shells. Tide donations will also go toward Billion Oyster Project working to develop a new oyster larvae cage technology to enhance oyster growing.

Pete’s Journey

1983

Pete is born and grows up next to the water on Fishers Island, a tiny island in New York. He works at his parents’ oyster farm and loves learning about the science behind the mollusks and discovering his local natural environment.

2003

Murray Fisher establishes the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

2007

Pete meets Murray Fisher and begins volunteering at the Harbor School.

2008 

Pete becomes an aquaculture teacher at the Harbor School. He oversees a class in which students grow oysters for the purpose of restoring them to New York Harbor.

2010 

The New York Harbor School moves to Governors Island.

2011

The first oyster reef is installed off Governors Island. 

2014

Pete launches Billion Oyster Project with Murray Fisher, as a natural extension of their work at the Harbor School. They set their sights on restoring one billion oysters to the harbor by 2035 in collaboration with New York City school students and volunteers. The National Science Foundation awards a three-year, $5 million grant to Billion Oyster Project to create curriculum and community initiatives for New York Harbor restoration in New York City public schools.

Billion Oyster Project
2020

A high density of wild oysters is discovered in New York Harbor — a positive sign that oysters are reproducing, their larvae are finding hard substrates to settle on, and the population could become self-sustaining once again. The harbor is the cleanest it has been in more than 100 years.

2021

Billion Oyster Project reaches several important milestones: to date, they have restored 75 million oysters; installed 18 oyster reefs; collected 2 million pounds of oyster shells from 100 New York City restaurants, saving them from landfill; and engaged more than 8,000 school students from 100 local schools, in addition to 11,000 volunteers.

2022

Pete becomes a Tide Turner, and Billion Oyster Project sets ambitious goals for the year ahead. They plan to produce around 50 million oysters — a 100 percent increase compared to 2021 — to seed on two to three new acres of oyster reef on the bottom of New York Harbor, as well as in suspended nurseries in field stations.

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