Wearing a fluorescent orange life preserver and rubber gloves that reached up to his biceps, Prince William waded — ever so carefully — into New York’s East River. A minor slip could have been embarrassing. Splash? Nothing but an international incident.
It had been raining since early morning. Wet onlookers watched the prince toss a few immature oysters into a bucket, then wade through waist-deep water until he reached shore.
The relief was palpable among the staff of the Billion Oyster Project, a nonprofit that aims to restore oyster reefs in New York’s waterways. The prince’s Monday visit with the organization has been years in the making: it was postponed last September after the death of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.
This time, part of the staff preparation included ordering new waders, the type of waterproof overalls worn by fly fishermen. “We were wondering what size waders the prince wears?” Said Jessi Olsen, Corporate Partnerships Manager for the Billion Oyster Project.
“He seemed like a natural,” said Agata Poniatowski, public affairs manager. “I believe he was already in the mudflats.
Prince William was visiting New York for two days to coincide with Climate Week, a summit on climate action held in conjunction with the United Nations General Assembly. He met UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday night and on Tuesday Prince William will announce the finalists for the Earthshot Prize, awarded by the climate charity he founded in 2020.
His first stop, however, was the shell pile on Governors Island. The prince arrived in a silver T-boat, a 28-foot personal vessel. He was accompanied by security personnel with life jackets layered over a navy blue suit.
Around 3:30 p.m., he walked into an enclosure the size of a tennis court on the island’s southeast, where he was surrounded by piles of oyster shells up to eight feet high.
The shells were donated by restaurants including Raoul’s and La Marchande, their contents already spilled out by diners. The shells then arrived at Governors Island to be cleaned (and separated from random trash like hot sauce packets).
Founded in 2014, the project aims to restore a billion live oysters in a harbor where shellfish once thrived. Some shells are placed directly into New York Harbor to be picked up by oyster larvae, and others are grown in oyster nurseries. The oysters are not intended for consumption, but to improve the harbor’s biodiversity and protect the city from flooding.
From the six-foot pile, the prince plucked a shell and rubbed it between his fingers as if pondering its potential. According to Pete Malinowski, executive director of the Billion Oyster Project, there are 130 million oysters left and 870 million left.
At 4:00 p.m., the Prince was taken in a blue and white golf cart to Pier 101, where the same boat was waiting to take him to Brooklyn Bridge Park. He maneuvered the narrow slippery bridge into the dock. A Coast Guard boat tossed through the waves in front of him—two others bobbed nearby.
The prince’s visit, which lasted just over an hour, was quiet, orderly and carefully rehearsed – noticeably different from some of the other displays of climate activism that have taken place in the city this month.
Prince William, who has been carefully kept out of earshot of reporters, could not be reached for comment on the various approaches.
Mr. Malinowski, director of the Billion Oyster Project, said he was unaware of MoMA’s protest. “I think everybody has to do their part, however they can do it,” he said.
He emphasized that the project teaches young people how to improve the health of the planet in a practical way. The staff teaches students at the New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island, about aquaculture, ocean engineering and maritime policy.
“There aren’t many ways that young people can make a positive impact on the planet,” Malinowski said. “Most of what they teach us is how to minimize our negative impact.”
Emma Brech, 22, a student who lives on Long Island, traveled to Governors Island before dawn in the hope of catching a glimpse of Prince William. The prince’s attention to the climate crisis “gives me more hope for the future,” she said.
When it rained for hours and there was no sign of the prince, Mrs Brech huddled under a Union Jack umbrella. Her patience was rewarded when Prince William gave her a brief wave on the way off the island.
“Selfies?” she exclaimed. No answer.