Generations of New Yorkers have stained the creek along which the Native American Canarsie tribe once lived.
Still, the ribbed mussel persevered, and now city officials are hoping they can help clean up.
While pumps may have worked, crews rigged nets and trays in an effort to get thousands of mussels to latch on.
"Sometimes the simplest solution can be right in front of you, and you need to look at it through a different lens," said John McLaughiln of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Mussels, like other bivalves, are natural filters. They ingest the water, unharmed by toxins from untreated sewage and street runoff.
In the next four or five days, ropes and trays will be completely submerged by water. All that’ll be visible are strips of reflecting tape on top for boats passing in the night.
The hope is that in the coming months, the mussels will start to collect and help filter the water as the tide comes in and out.
"Each individual mussel can probably filter 20 to 25 gallons per day, so when you multiply that by 10,000 or even 100,000 mussels, you're getting a lot of filtering of the water," said McLaughlin.
There are plenty of the mollusks already, but only on the banks tethered to cord grass roots.
So the city hired a crew and paid $350,000 for the entire project. It's part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's PlanNYC, which hopes to reverse environmental damage citywide.
It's smack against a residential community, but discreetly so. Despite trash and less than pristine water, there aren’t just scores of mussels but jumping schools of jumping fish and ducks paddling northbound.
If the plan works, New York's waterways could become a veritable seafood buffet. After luring oysters and mussels to stay in the five boroughs, officials say they're next considering bay scallops.