Wearing a fluorescent orange life preserver and rubber gloves that reached up to his bicep, Prince William waded – very carefully – into New York’s East River. A small slip-up might have been embarrassing. A splash? Nothing short of an international incident.
It had been raining since early morning. Moist spectators watched as the prince tossed a few baby oysters into a bucket and then waded through waist-deep water until he reached the shore.
The relief was palpable among employees of the Billion Oyster Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring oyster reefs in New York’s waterways. The prince’s visit to the organization on Monday had been years in the making: it was postponed last September following the death of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II.
This time, staff preparations included ordering new waders, the type of waterproof overalls fly fishers wear. “We asked ourselves: What size wading boots does the prince wear?” Jessi Olsen, corporate partnerships manager at the Billion Oyster Project, said.
“He looked like a natural,” said Agata Poniatowski, the organization’s public relations director. “I think he’s been in waders before.”
Prince William visited New York for two days that coincided with Climate Week, a climate change summit taking place alongside the United Nations General Assembly. He met with UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday evening and on Tuesday Prince William will announce the finalists for the Earthshot Prize, presented by the climate-focused charity he founded in 2020.
His first stop, however, was a shell pile on Governors Island. The prince arrived on a silver T-boat, a 28-foot-long passenger liner. He was accompanied by security personnel wearing life jackets over his dark blue suits.
At around 3:30 p.m. he entered an enclosure the size of a tennis court in the southeast of the island, where he was surrounded by mountains of oyster shells up to eight feet high.
The mussels had been donated by restaurants like Raoul’s and La Marchande, the contents of which had already been slurped up by diners. The clams then arrived on Governors Island to be cleaned (and separated from random debris like packets of hot sauce).
Founded in 2014, the project aims to restore one billion live oysters to a harbor where the mollusks once thrived. Some shells are placed directly in New York Harbor to be ingested by oyster larvae, others are maintained in oyster gardens. The oysters are not intended to be eaten, but rather to improve biodiversity in the harbor and protect the city from flooding.
From a pile six feet high, the prince picked up a seashell and rubbed it between his fingers as if contemplating its potential. According to Pete Malinowski, executive director of the Billion Oyster Project, there are 130 million oysters and 870 million left.
At 4 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 down a narrow, slippery passage to the dock. A Coast Guard boat rocked through the waves in front of him – two others rocked nearby.
The prince’s visit lasted just over an hour and was calm, orderly and tightly choreographed – markedly different from some other demonstrations of climate activism that have taken place in the city this month.
Prince William, carefully kept out of earshot of reporters, could not be reached for comment on the differing approaches.
Mr. Malinowski, the director of the Billion Oyster Project, said he knew nothing about the MoMA protest. “I think everyone has to do their part, however they can,” he said.
He emphasized that the project teaches young people how they can practically improve the health of the planet. Staff members teach students at New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island, about aquaculture, marine technology and ocean policy.
“There aren’t many opportunities for young people to have a positive impact on the planet,” Malinowski said. “Most of what we are taught is how to minimize our negative impact.”
Emma Brech, 22, a student who lives on Long Island, had traveled to Governors Island before dawn hoping to catch a glimpse of Prince William. The prince’s attention to the climate crisis “gives me more hope for the future,” she said.
While it rained for hours and the prince was nowhere to be seen, Ms. Brech crouched under an umbrella with the Union Jack. Her patience was rewarded when Prince William gave her a quick wave on the way off the island.
“Selfie?” she shouted. No Answer.