The Billion Oyster Project

One of the most biologically productive, diverse and dynamic environments on the planet was a natural harbor with 220,000 acres of oyster reefs forming its base, along with thousands of associated species. Some biologists think that half of the world’s oysters lived within this pristine estuary. And when healthy, it sustained local human populations for hundreds of years. However, these majestic oyster reefs were over-harvested, dredged up, covered in silt and landfill, and poisoned by sewage. Now they are part of the New York Harbor we know today. But young scuba divers and other New York City students are working hard on the Billion Oyster Project (BOP). They plan to disperse one billion live oysters around 100 acres of reefs, reclaiming the harbor’s title as the oyster capital of the world.

Why oysters?

Oysters were the keystone species of New York Harbor, upon which the entire ecosystem depended. Their loss had a devastating effect on all local marine life. Their disappearance also destabilized the sea floor. This leaves the shoreline vulnerable to extreme wave damage and prevents the harbor’s estuary from maintaining itself. Billion Oyster Project aims to reverse these effects by re-establishing oyster colonies. These will help restore the marine environment, resulting in cleaner water and greater biodiversity. Additionally, these living oyster-reef breakwaters will buffer neighborhood shorelines. This will create a more resilient New York City, better able to withstand the devastating effects of storms.

Students and divers are bringing back the oysters

Sadly, as a 2011 study published in BioScience reported, the wild oysters in New York Harbor, like those in many other bays around the world, are functionally extinct. The seabed is the darkest of muck or “black mayonnaise,” as the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School (NYHS) students call it. There are some wild oysters, but when they spawn, there’s no place in this black goop for the larvae to adhere. Therefore, they often die. That’s where the heavy lifting for BOP comes in, with NYHS students conducting most of the work.

With career- and technical-education programs in a wide variety of marine-based professions (e.g., marine biology research, ocean engineering, professional diving, etc.), students from NYHS can perform the oyster-restoration work themselves. They cultivate oyster larvae, establish nurseries, design and build mechanisms to house the oysters, pilot the boats, install artificial reefs filled with spat (baby oysters), and conduct research.

Diving to help oysters

The diving aspect of this project is unique to New York, as the NYHS is the only public high school in the United States that offers a Scientific Diver certification through the American Academy of Underwater Sciences. Sophomores begin their dive training with PADI Open Water certification through the NYHS. They perform easier dives in Dutch Springs, Pennsylvania and in Brooklyn. Continuing with Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver certifications, students soon embrace the more difficult dives of New York Harbor. Their NYHS training culminates with the Scientific Diver certification, as well as additional training in drysuit, tethered and full-facemask diving.

“Learning to dive in New York waters with its fast currents, low visibility and heavy boat traffic creates super-strong divers with incredible confidence and a solid sense of team work,” says Zoë Greenberg, assistant dive safety officer at BOP and professional diving instructor at the NYHS. And tough divers are necessary, because juniors and senior spend their time diving the cold New York City waters in one of the busiest ports in the country, helping establish oyster beds from Governor’s Island in Manhattan to reefs in Brooklyn and Queens.

The results

Oyster restoration in New York Harbor is still experimental. But a variety of artificial reefs have been successfully established by attaching filing cabinet-style cages made of rebar to substrates made of clam shells, oysters and porcelain. BOP has even found two creative ways to produce the materials they so desperately need for the restoration. Instead of adding to landfills, which helped decimate the oyster populations, they’re “recycling porcelain from public school toilets and oyster shells from local restaurants to help build artificial reefs,” Greenberg says.

With up to 20 oysters growing from a single recycled shell and stable substrates on which oysters can thrive, the results are astonishing so far, especially as BOP only officially launched in 2014.

The project is clearly on track to meet its goal of distributing one billion live oysters around 100 acres of reefs by 2035. This will make New York Harbor once again the most productive waterbody in the North Atlantic, and help it reclaim its title as the oyster capital of the world.

Get involved

The decimation of oyster-bed ecosystems around the world and the devastation to shorelines now pummeled by storm damage is appalling. If you want to help, eat oysters local to your area (or leave them off your plate entirely). You may also consider making a 501c3 charitable donation to the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School or the Billion Oyster Project.

If you live or work in New York, both organizations are always looking for help in the areas below.

  • Dive shops and marine businesses: Internships for current students and post-graduates
  • Restaurants: Recycled oyster shells
  • Volunteers: Assistance building artificial reefs, preparing recycled shells and maintaining oyster nurseries
  • Citizen scientists and teachers: Set up and monitor oyster-restoration stations in satellite campuses

Cover photo: A Billion Oyster Project shell curing site for recycled oyster shells in Staten Island. Photo courtesy of Benjamin Von Wong.

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Marine Species: Sicklefin Devil Ray


The sicklefin devil ray is one of the lesser-known mobula species. Where can you see these rays on a dive?

What is a devil ray?

One of the lesser-known mobula species, the sicklefin devil ray, also known as the Chilean devil ray or spiny mobula, can reach a disc width of up to 12 feet (3.7 m). Their striking frontal horns, not dissimilar to the frontal lobes of manta rays, are to thank for the name “devil ray,” and they’re thought to resemble the devil’s horns.

Females are bigger than males, and only the left ovary is functional. They deliver only one pup at a time and size at birth is around 4 feet long (118 to 132 cm).

Green on the top of their bodies and white on the bottom, sicklefin devil rays are often accompanied by two remoras. They often swim close to oceanic manta rays as well, and can dive quite deep when searching for prey. Scientists have observed these creatures diving to nearly 6,500 feet (2,000 m), which makes them one of the ocean’s deepest diving animals. The rays can dive to such great depths thanks to a complex network of blood vessels that surround their brain. These enable the brain to stay functional and at an optimal temperature when diving to great and cold depths.

The sicklefin devil ray, as well as other species of mobula and manta, display high degrees of social interactions and curiosity toward humans, which makes them a pleasure to dive with.

Where can you find devil rays?

Mobulas are long migrators, usually traveling great distances in summer and winter to search for food. Sicklefin devil rays inhabit most tropical and temperate waters around the world, but the Azores Islands in the Mid-Atlantic are one of the best areas to observe mass congregations. On Princess Alice Bank, 50 nautical miles (93 km) off the coast of Pico Island, divers have encountered over 80 individuals in one tight group.

Are they threatened?

The IUCN Red List classifies sicklefin devil rays as vulnerable due to the high demand for their gill rakers. While locals often consume the meat from the fished rays, the catalyst for the dramatic increase in hunting rays are the animal’s gill rakers, which are dried and exported for the Asian medicinal market. Dried gill rakers are also crushed into a powder, often added to soup and broth. Fishing nets and boat traffic also present problems for devil rays, as they become entangled as bycatch or fall victim to boats when they surface.


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Macro Photography in Utila Part I

Utila, one of the Bay Islands in Honduras, offers fantastic diving, welcoming people, diverse culture and amazing natural beauty. It’s also a great place to hone, or even begin to develop, your macro photography skills. Best of all, you needn’t be a skilled photographer to start practicing macro photography in this island paradise. 

Brad Ryon, Utila transplant and owner of Re/Max Realty on the island, was not always a macro photographer.  Even now, it’s still only a hobby, when he’s not showing properties or hosting camera crews filming for HGTV.  However, he has been able to perfect his macro talent on Utila, and has even become one of those featured photographers and contest winners that we all marvel at.

Ryon began diving as a youngster, certifying at 18, and pursued his passion for the marine world by working in Hawaii as a marine-mammal biologist and doing coral studies on Glover Reef in the mid-90s.  He used telephoto lenses and dabbled in some macro, though mostly above water. So why Utila?

Why try macro photography in Utila?

As the story goes with many who end up here, Ryon planned to spend three days on Utila during a Central American vacation. He left two weeks later after buying property. Once established on the island, Ryon turned his attention to what drew him here in the first place: the marine world and photography. 

The Mesoamerican Reef offers fantastic diversity in general, but Utila offers significant diversity in a very small area.  There is diving right off shore anywhere around the island.  Simply wade into the water and you’re on world-class dive sites and healthy reefs.  For example, Little Little Bight (not to be confused with Little Bight nearby) and Jack Neil Point, on the south shore, are good for photography because of the mixed environment of patch reef, sand, gravel, and wall that support lots of different creatures.  You will find hard and soft corals, small blennies, gobies, wrasses, tarpon, barracuda, jack, cobia, eagle and stingrays, sharks and octopus, just to name a few. 

The waters are calm most of the time and the diving is easy around Utila, so you don’t have to go deep.  In fact, when Ryon first arrived, he had to snorkel because he had no tanks or a compressor, so he was always in 15 feet of water or less.

How amazing can Utila’s macro life be? Ryon has, on three separate occasions, found an octopus nest with females guarding eggs.  The best photos came from 50 dives over six weeks where he photographed the growth of the embryos in their eggs until they hatched. Obviously, an extended vacation may be in order to capture something that cool, but Utila affords a novice photographer the opportunity to significantly improve and to photograph a huge variety of subjects.

In our next article, we’ll dive a bit more deeply into the technical aspects of macro photography on Utila, as well as offer some tips and tricks from Ryon on how to get started. Stay tuned!

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Holland Park By Townline in the heart of Surrey

Holland Park By Townline is a 25-storey residential high-rise tower offering 248 well-finished city homes, consisting of condominium suites and three-level townhomes. Located in the heart of Surrey’s emerging City Centre and overlooking Holland Park. This high-rise tower boasts close proximity to the King George SkyTrain Station, SFU’s Surrey Campus, and the Central City Shopping Centre.

Opening 2018

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Bordeaux Living – Brentwood

After the sucessful launch of Milano, Solerra is bringing Bordeaux to the Brentwood area. Further expanding what is becoming the hottest real estate market in Great Vancouver.

Bordeaux Living will be located on the corner of Juneau Street and Willingdon Avenue, 1 block south of Lougheed Highway.

Bordeaux will consist of 141 concrete apartment residences, including a limited collection of 3 bedroom townhouses.  Bordeaux will include luxurious Italian kitchens, premium appliances, air conditioning, oversized outdoor spaces and a plethora of building amenities.

To be kept up to date on Bordeaux, and many other like it in Brentwood, register with us to be kept in the loop









This is not an offering for sale. No such offering can be made without a disclosure statement. E.&O.E.

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Meridian by Townline in the centre of Burquitlam

Meridian by Townline in the centre of Burquitlam, an upcoming luxurious 32-storey residential high-rise tower compromised of 198 carefully crafted intelligently designed 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom homes, along with a limited collection of only a few exclusive two-level 3-bedroom townhomes. Conveniently located at Cottonwood Avenue and Clarke Road; in the centre of Burquitlam’s burgeoning community, adjacent to the Evergreen SkyTrain line and just steps from a plethora of urban amenities.

Opening 2018

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The Yonaguni Monument: Is it the Lost City of Atlantis?

In the early 1980s, a young diver named Kihachiro Aratake was scouting for dive sites on the remote Japanese island of Yonaguni. That’s when he discovered something underwater that took his breath away. He described it as an “underwater Machu Picchu.” But, is the now-called Yonaguni Monument in fact closer to the lost city of Atlantis?

Diving the Yonaguni Monument

I’m listening to Aratake’s story 30 years on, and as he reaches this part of his tale, his eyes widen in excitement. The magic lives on, and so does the mystery.

Is it an ancient monument, the remains of a legendary city like Atlantis, swallowed by the ocean thousands of years ago? Did aliens build it? Or is it a natural rock formation? Archaeologists and geologists are still at loggerheads 30 years after Aratake discovered it.

So naturally, it’s the first thing I want to see when I arrive here for a dive holiday. Aratake tells me I must decide for myself. I’m diving with Sou-Wes Diving, run by Aratake’s son, Shorty, and he sizes us up carefully before taking us to the dive site. He tests our skills first at another site before deciding whether we’re up for it and decides that we are.

The Monument is located close to shore and while it’s a shallow dive, between 15 to 40 feet (4.5 to 12 m), the area is sometimes subject to strong currents.

You’ll enter the site through a small tunnel that opens on to a flat, square area. As you emerge from the tunnel,  you’ll see two massive columns right in front of you. These have perfectly square edges, stretching up to the water’s surface. From here you follow a flat road around the tall walls of the monument to an area that looks like a stage.

Large steps lead up to the stage, with more steps leading on to higher levels of the structure. At the edge of the stage, the walls drop down steeply to a depth of around 14 m. You can just imagine crowds standing below, looking up at some kind of spectacle.

On our dive, the water is incredibly clear, with visibility of at least 120 feet (37 m). I peer over the side of the monument into the gully, where I can see two turtles gliding along, far below us.

Past the stage there is a deep, triangular alcove, which Aratake believes was a chapel or altar. Shorty points out that it faces exactly due north, and a large slab of rock sits just before the apex, almost like a sacrificial platform.

A little further along is another perfectly symmetrical structure, which looks like a giant turtle. Could this have been a god-like creature that the ancients worshipped?

So, what is the Yonaguni Monument?

I must admit: it’s pretty convincing. The straight edges of the steps and stage are at perfect 90-degree angles — how could these have formed naturally? Geologists argue that the rock formations are sedimentary, made of sandstone. Some archaeologists claim that the monument was carved out of stone (sandstone is relatively easy to carve, isn’t it?). But if this monument was built on land and then swallowed by the sea, it must have happened over 10,000 years ago, the last time sea levels rose. This means it predates the Egyptian pyramids and megalithic structures such as Stonehenge by about 5,000 years.

Other Yonaguni dive sites

Whether you believe this is a manmade structure or a natural-rock formation, it’s still an incredible sight. And it’s not the only amazing dive site in Yonaguni.

Divers have surveyed 67 sites here. Many feature beautiful caverns and caves, pristine coral reefs and other striking features, such as large fields of anemones and enormous gorgonian fans. And better still, even in November the water temperature is 84 F (29 C), thanks to a warm current that runs up the east coast of Taiwan. There’s plenty of marine life here too, everything from brightly colored anemonefish, to turtles, rays and, in season, huge schools of hammerhead sharks.

So, is the Yonaguni Monument manmade? As Aratake says, you must decide for yourself. Its mystique has lasted over 30 years so far, no doubt it will last many more.

Getting There: ANA has daily connecting flights to Naha, Okinawa from Tokyo, but as Naha is an international airport, you can also fly there directly from Taipei, Seoul, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Yonaguni Island is another 1.5 hours’ flight from Naha, traveling with domestic airline Ryuku Air Commuter.

Where to Stay: The island has several bed-and-breakfast-style accommodations. Sou-Wes Diving owns and operates Hotel Irifune. The hotel offers Western- or Japanese-style rooms, and all meals are included.

By guest author Deborah Dickson-Smith

Deborah Dickson-Smith is one half of Diveplanit. She manages the dive-travel website  her partner Simon Mallender, based in Australia.

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