In October 2020 Prince William announced that he was founding the Earthshot Prize to honor companies and projects working on scalable solutions to various environmental challenges, with one of the five total prizes aimed at improving oceans and waterways. Ever since, the prince has been submerged in the issue, but on a Monday engagement in New York Harbor, he made his involvement literal by donning waders and gloves and walking waist-deep in the waters of the East River.
At the end of an afternoon touring the facilities where the Billion Oyster Project works with the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, William suited up to see a reef in action. Along with three others, William waded out to pull several oysters out of a cage installed by the organization at Brooklyn Bridge Park. He returned to shore after collecting a bucketful of oysters and examined them with students afterward.
Ben LoGuidice, a remote setting manager with the BOP, joined William on his wade through the water and said the prince seemed very interested in the intricacies of the oyster project. “We chatted about when the oysters were brought into Brooklyn Bridge Park, when they were grown, and what they’re doing for this site specifically,” he told reporters afterward, adding that the trip into the water was a reflection of the site checks that staff members do at least twice a year. “We had a couple of oyster predators as well as other animals that grow on the oyster reefs, so it was a great example of what we’re trying to do.”
The prince’s day with the staff and students began soon after he arrived at Newark Airport on a commercial flight. He went directly to New Jersey’s Liberty Harbor, where he braved rainy weather, put on a life jacket, and boarded a small boat with Pete Malinowski, cofounder and executive director of the Brooklyn Oyster Project, a nonprofit restoring oyster reefs to the city’s rivers and waterways. On a 15-minute trip to Governors Island, the prince and Malinowski stood side by side as the boat passed the landmarks of Lower Manhattan’s skyline. After the visit, Malinowski said he and the prince discussed how the educational and environmental missions of the project are intertwined.
Malinowski cofounded the project in 2014, after serving as an aquaculture teacher at the Harbor School. BOP collects used shells from restaurants around the city—2 million pounds have been collected so far—and uses them to create structures where oyster larvae can grow. Students from the Harbor School help clean the used shells, which are “cured” outdoors before reuse, and design structures where the larvae can settle. Every spring, the project adds a new batch of larvae to their five sites around the city, mainly in the East River. Eventually, the larvae concretize, grow their own shells, and begin filtering the water around them. Though they provide plenty of environmental benefits, including protection from flooding during storm surges, the project’s oysters are not for eating, their communications director Helene Hetrick noted with a laugh.
The prince’s visit to the project was three years in the making and seeing it come to a fruition was an “incredible honor,” Malinowski said. “He is a super-nice guy—very fun and interesting to talk to, and he talks to everyone. So it’s a huge honor, and it means the world to us. It’s a validation of the work we’re doing.” He added that the inspiration to found the project came from his own experience growing up on an oyster farm on Fishers Island, and realizing that he had important knowledge about the natural world even though he didn’t feel like a strong student. He later became a teacher in order to reach students like himself.
Upon arriving at the Harbor School’s Marine and Science Technology (MAST) Center on Governors Island, William went to a hatchery classroom, where a group of 10th graders were growing algae that would eventually be used to feed the larvae. William repeated back the name of the algae species in the tank and said that he had just added a new word to his vocabulary. The students explained the principles of aquaculture—breeding and hatching fish and aquatic plants using environmentally responsible methods—and talked about their experiences at the school, which introduces students from around the five boroughs to the skills necessary for maritime careers.