Millions of clams and scallop shells will call Triton Lane in East Quogue home for the next several months as they await a bay-bottom restoration project.
Several piles of shells now line the western edge of the stretch of roadway north of Dune Road. They will remain there until they are sufficiently seasoned, at which point they will be used to facilitate the growth of oysters that will one day be used to create a new oyster reef in western Shinnecock Bay.
Constructing a new oyster reef is part of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Shinnecock Bay Restoration Project, which aims to improve water quality and marine life in the bay, according to Dr. Chris Gobler, a professor at the school and a principal investigator with the project.
Although the intended use of the shells is pure, the odor they produce on certain days is anything but, and some East Quogue and Hampton Bays residents who have happened across the pile have found the odor to be quite pungent.
Town Trustee Scott Horowitz said the smell can be strong, but the shells are nothing new, noting that the Trustees have used Triton Lane as a holding ground for the restoration project’s shells since 2012.
“It’s got to sit there for eight months to get clean, but yeah it’s out there, it’s by the wetlands and the bay, so sometimes it’s going to get a little smelly,” Mr. Horowitz, the Trustee responsible for East Quogue, said. “It’s a practice that’s been going on for years now.”
Most of the shells have been discarded by local baymen and fisherman, Dr. Gobler said. Mr. Horowitz said some are trucked in from Point Lookout in Nassau County.
Once the shells are clean enough, Dr. Gobler said, they are used as a substrate, or growth surface, for oyster larvae, a process that is carried out inside the Stony Brook Southampton labs. Dr. Gobler said his group attempted the same process in the wild in Mecox Bay, but for the most part, the oyster beds are being formed inside.
“Unlike a clam—you throw a clam in the water, it’ll settle almost anywhere—oysters like to be settled in groups and they need to settle on calcium carbonate, which is contained within the shells,” Dr. Gobler said.
Although the restoration process has the full support of the Town Trustees, various approvals are needed from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers before they can introduce the new oyster beds into the wild.
Oysters help filter nitrates from the water, Dr. Gobler said, adding that his group also plants eelgrass beds to help purify the bay waters.
Mr. Horowitz said even when shells are moved from Triton Lane to the Stony Brook lab, new shells are brought in to take their place, meaning there will be a continuous pile of shells on the side of the road and, with it, the occasional foul odor.
“Hopefully, the benefits outweigh the inconvenience of having a bad smell every now and then,” he said.