Murray is the co-founder of one of my favorite organizations not only in New York City, but in the world. Billion Oyster Project and the Harbor School have created an entire ecosystem of change focused on an organism: the oyster. This ecosystem has been able to effect positive change in our waterways, restaurants, and within New York City based students, as a few examples of it’s impact. I deeply, deeply admire the progressive work he and his team execute, and hope you will too.
In gearing up for Lonely Whale’s Urban Ocean Love Story this next Monday at Soho House—which will highlight efforts being taken to preserve and rebuild NYC’s waterways—I caught up with Murray to discuss not only his restoration efforts in the New York Harbor, but also to get the conversation flowing on what we can do to help ensure that our own favorite bodies of water remain safe and beautiful.
This is part three of four in the Lonely Whale Interview Series, brought to you by our sustainable seafood friends over at Norman’s Cay NYC.
Where are you from?
Born in Colombia, South America. Raised on a farm in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia.
And where do you currently call home?
I have been here since 1999 but hesitate to call it home—my heart is still in Virginia.
Do you remember your first time falling in love with the water?
We spent summers up at Fishers Island, NY where I was allowed to take a small boat out fishing into Long Island Sound by myself when I was 11 years old. It was the only way I wanted to spend my time.
Can you give us your favorite sea creature?
For as long as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with sharks.
Most memorable water-related movie you’ve ever watched?
Jacques Cousteau’s documentaries helped me fall in love with the elements of the natural world that were beyond my reach when I was very young. He deserves some credit for helping me decide to devote my life to protecting and restoring wildlife.
Favorite beach you’ve had the pleasure of visiting?
The beaches at Fishers Island have always been and will likely continue to be my favorite beaches in the world. Although Manly beach in Sydney, Australia was pretty memorable.
East Coast or West Coast, and why?
East Coast is my home. I fell in love with the Long Island Sound and the Chesapeake Bay very early in my life. There is so much work to do here at home in such a beautiful but densely populated part of the planet that I find myself less and less interested in traveling and more interested in seeing small victories at home. I suppose I am kind of a homebody.
Oyster restoration brings New Yorkers together. At Billion Oyster Project, we’re building a community of New Yorkers who are making New York Harbor cleaner, more abundant, and accessible for all. Please support BOP this #GivingTuesday! Link to donate is in the bio.
A photo posted by Billion Oyster Project (@billionoyster) on
Was there a specific moment or interaction that originally attracted you to your cause?
Something happened to me before I can remember that gave me extreme affection for the natural world and also extreme sensitivities to anything threatening it. I don’t know what it was. My mom was a gardener. My dad was a farmer. All my uncles and cousins hunted. Although I don’t hunt anymore, my most powerful, early memories outdoors are from hunting.
The non-hunting, non-fishing environmental and conservation community has a problem: few things can replicate the sheer excitement and intimacy with the natural world that comes from pursuing a wild animal for food.
What has been your greatest inspiration in staying dedicated to your cause?
My greatest inspiration has been watching a younger generation of environmentalists—like the staff at the Billion Oyster Project—who are sacrificing more to save the planet than people my generation have. This has given me not only inspiration but courage to make the difficult choices necessary to minimize my own negative impact on the planet while maximizing my positive impact.
What is your biggest fear for the future for our oceans?
That increasing number of people eating more fish will drive all of the bigger fish (and marine mammal) species to extinction during my lifetime if not my children’s lifetime.
One thing you believe everyone can + should be doing to help preserve our natural bodies of water?
I think a good place to start is to stop eating wildlife from the ocean. Seems kind of obvious even writing it, but there are not enough people standing up and demanding that we eat lower on the food chain. We must.
A great alternative is to eat farmed oysters, which we believe is the most sustainable source of protein on the planet. And leave wild oysters—like the ones we are restoring in New York Harbor—in the wild where they have much more important work to do.