The placement of breakwaters along the southern coast of Staten Island
New York’s Staten Island, hit by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, is to be protected from any future coastal storms by a “living breakwater” of natural and manmade materials designed to be populated by oysters.
Design consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff and architect Scape/Landscape Architecture have secured a $60m grant to build the scheme, as part of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rebuild by Design competition.
The breakwater will reduce the height of waves breaking onto the shore and help prevent coastal erosion along the New York seaboard. The southernmost streets of Staten Island were inundated by 16 foot waves when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012, killing a father and daughter.
The project will involve building three natural and manmade breakwaters from Conference House Park to the Tottenville district of Staten Island, which was the area hardest hit.
Although the scheme has been designed for the specific needs of the Staten Island area, the design team says that it could be replicated for other coastal areas vulnerable to extreme weather.
Community outreach events provided the public with information about shoreline resiliency and restoration
The living breakwaters create tidal flats and are formed from underwater banks made of stone and ECOncrete®, a specially formulated concrete that attracts marine organisms to promote biogenic buildup.
Oysters and other species will biogenically build reef systems – attaching themselves to structures and, over time, accumulating in layers, strengthening the breakwaters.
The breakwaters will absorb wave energy and create slow-moving water, reducing floodwater and erosion.
There will also be “social engagement” programmes designed to bring residents to the water and re-engage with their ecology.
Kate Orff, a landscape architect who worked on the project, told Global Construction Review that oysters are ideal breakwater building blocks. “Oysters can… agglomerate onto each other and form these amazing natural reef structures. They’re nature’s wave attenuators. So the core idea here was to hit the reset button and regenerate an ecology over time that was regenerative and cleaning and productive.
The planned water hub for the Tottenville beach on Staten Island
“It accepts algae and detritus in one end, and through this beautiful, glamorous set of stomach organs, out the other end comes cleaner water. And one oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day.”
Parsons Brinckerhoff public realm designer, Pippa Brashear, added: “By attenuating the waves the project could reduce the flood plane in that area. We could bring it down by two feet, that could make the difference of a floor of your house being in and out of the insurance zone.”
One concern was that the locals might eat their breakwater. To prevent this, the team plans to install an “oyster cam” to monitor the safety of the bivalves.
“Anyone can log on and kind of check out the oyster cam,” says Gena Wirth, also of Scape. “There will be a camera out there that would help make sure that people aren’t harvesting the oysters to eat them.”
The project still needs to go through regulatory procedures with the city and state, which means that construction will not start until two to four years’ time.