Volunteers came out to shovel, wash and pack away tons of clamshells at Mt. Sinai Harbor over the weekend for a planned shellfish restoration project by Coastal Steward, a Port Jefferson based environmental organization.
The original idea was to build up one giant reef for oysters in the Long Island Sound but Department of Conservation red tape forced the non-profit group to go a different route.
By 3 p.m. on Sunday, Dave Johnson and his horde of volunteers had packed hundreds of bags with empty marine clam and quahog shells from a 30-yard roll off dumpster. The shells will eventually be used to create smaller reefs in Mt. Sinai and Port Jefferson Harbors where millions of oyster will live, grow and hopefully spawn to repopulate the Long Island Sound.
The marine biology department from Stony Brook University (SBU) was well represented when students carpooled from campus to Cedar Beach, getting their hands plenty dirty all in the name of science and for the good of the environment.
Brian Gallagher was there from SBU’s Marine Science Club.
Gallagher, who studies marine vertebrate biology, usually deals with much bigger animals than oysters but he and his fellow club members saw it as a good opportunity to pitch in and help the Long Island Sound.
"It’s good thing and it's local so I try to come out," he said.
Emily Markowitz, a freshman studying Marine Biology and also a member of the Marine Science Club, grew up on a river in Westchester. Even though she had to head back home for the weekend later that day for a family event, she felt she needed to come down with her classmates that morning.
"It’s important to do this that's why I didn't skip it," she said as she helped tie up the net bags to be filled with empty shell.
The shells arrived from Brookhaven Town’s recycling center in Yaphank where they have been aging since March when they were donated to Coastal Steward by a Rhode Island based company called Blount Seafood.
Volunteers took turns standing on top of the pile of shells loading them by the shovelful into buckets. Others took the shell-filled buckets and dumped them into net bags, which were then hosed off and stacked on pallets.
Next Spring, Johnson will place the bags inside tanks at a Town-owned aquaculture facility at Cedar Beach along with up to 15-million oyster larvae. The larvae will cement themselves to the material, thinking that the packed shells are the remains of successive generations of shellfish.
"They figure 'hey if it worked for that one it’ll work for me,'" explained Johnson on why the larvae will attach to dead shells.
Afterwards, the oysters will be placed in racks in Mt. Sinai Harbor where they will grow for a month. Then the process of releasing the oysters into Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson Harbors to create the multitude of reefs will begin.
"It’s a very, very ambitious plan," he said.
Actually, it’s Plan B.
Johnson wanted to build one giant 200 by 200 foot oyster reef but the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) put the kibosh on it with mounds of paperwork making it obvious that they weren’t keen on the idea. For one, they looked at the big mound as solid waste and required more studies. Secondly, if the reef was built in protected waters, the agency would then have to patrol it to make sure people weren’t taking oysters from it.
Now Johnson says that making a bunch of smaller reefs is a better idea. More importantly, he can start working without the DEC’s approval since he’s already got permits in place to build the smaller sized reefs.
With the revised strategy and money he received from a Federal grant, Johnson is just waiting out the winter before putting the second part of the plan in action.
"Plan B will be much more effective," he said.