Neil Chambers is the founder and CEO of Chambers Design, Inc., and author of Urban Green: Architecture for the Future. The book is about restoring the natural world in a way that benefits both humans and the environment. He argues that the future of architecture relies on looking to the earth's past to teach us a more sustainable way to grow as a society.
In this clip, Chambers discusses a project in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where they are restoring a polluted estuary by reintroducing oysters that he says can “filter four gallons of water per hour.” In it, he claimed that 100,000 oysters could clean the water column every day.
This idea falls into the category of restoration ecology, or restoring ecosystems in a way that will benefit the natural environment. In the case of oysters, you can clean the water in an area without building costly infrastructure. If done right, the oysters will maintain themselves and don't have to be maintained like man-made infrastructure does. Programs to use oysters to clean water are being discussed in many places across the country, including the Hudson-Raritan Estuary in New York/New Jersey, Wilson Bay in North Carolina, and a project on Virginia's coastline, among others.
In this piece, Chambers makes an important point about choosing between infrastructure and ecological restoration. While infrastructure technology often has a relatively short track record, ecological changes can restore natural systems that have worked for thousands of years. In essence, you are allowing nature to complete the process that it was designed to execute, which results in drinkable water, breathable air, and fertile land for all of us.
Other examples of high-profile ecological restoration projects are the efforts to restore the wetlands in Louisiana to help prevent the type of flooding that was seen during Hurricane Katrina, replant the forests in places like the Philippines, and to attempt to aid soil restoration in the Red Rock Canyon State Park in the Mojave Desert.