Natural Flood Protection

  • Posted 10.31.13
  • NOVA

Landscape architect Kate Orff believes that cultivating the blue mussel and other native shellfish could be a solution to prevent flooding in New York City. She imagines a future where shellfish beds and small islands in the harbor guard the city from high water.

Running Time: 01:52


Natural Flood Protection

October 31, 2013

NARRATOR: The towering skyscrapers of lower Manhattan won’t be floating anytime soon. But planners here are trying to learn from the Dutch, as they forge a new relationship with the water.  While some experts insist on giant barriers to keep the sea out…

KATE ORFF: We’re going to pull up the ropes and check them out.

NARRATOR: …others like landscape architect Kate Orff, believe in a softer approach.

ORFF: This is a typical blue mussel that we’re looking to recruit on this rope.

NARRATOR: Orff says the blue mussels clinging to these ropes could be a lifeline for New York Harbor, and help the city survive a wetter future.

The mussels are a keystone species, the first small step toward Orff’s grand vision: a harbor filled with vibrant shellfish beds and small islands, offering a natural defense against high water.

ORFF: You can’t just think of resiliency as closing the gates, you know, putting up a giant seawall, but rather through introducing reefs and offshore islands. Ecological systems and marine life can play a role in making a more resilient harbor.

NARRATOR: New York Harbor was once filled with healthy oyster beds and mussel-covered reefs. After nearly being wiped out by pollution and dredging, today the mollusks might be making a come back. Not only could they help keep the harbor clean, but some say that big beds of shellfish could weaken incoming waves, and offer protection in a storm.

ORFF: I think we’ve learned over the past 100 years that you cannot isolate these problems. We live in an ecosystem where everything is interconnected. 



Produced, Written, and Directed by
Miles O'Brien
Additional Producing
Cameron Hickey and Suzi Tobias
Cameron Hickey
Associate Producer
Will Toubman
Cameron Hickey
Original Footage
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013


(images of future NYC)
Courtesy SCAPE/ Landscape Architecture


(main image: Island in Harbor)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013

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