Oyster reefs once carpeted 350 miles of New York waterway, from Coney Island to Poughkeepsie. Now there are none. Mara Haseltine, a science-minded sculptor of environmentally conscious works, wants to reintroduce the once teeming mollusks along with other benefits of reefs (they filter pollutants and provide habitat for hundreds of other local marine varieties). In 2007, she introduced the first solar-powered oyster reef, at MacNeil Park in College Point, Queens, and in 2009, she and her students at New York's New School created a midden from the shells of roughly 5,000 oysters donated by the Oyster Bar at Grand Central Station after a day's consumption. On July 15, her Oyster Island was installed in the Hudson River near Garrison, New York, as part of the Garrison Art Center’s sculpture show “Current,” on view through October 11.
Prosaically subtitled A Submersible Substrate for Future Aquatic Life, Oyster Island is made of porcelain and marble — materials that adhere to New York State Department of Environmental Protection guidelines because of their longevity and benign impact. Equally important, they are substances oyster larvae, or spat, will happily cling to.
A companion piece by Haseltine, Enchanted Oyster Sweet Spot, currently hangs from the limb of a tulip tree on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor, trailing wind chimes made of mollusk shells harvested from the North Fork of Long Island, a former oyster hotbed.