West Hampton Dunes community members got their feet wet—literally—in shellfish restoration on Saturday morning as they created their own oyster garden in Moriches Bay.
Lead by Kim Tetrault, an aquaculturist from the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, the group of about 20, including many children, placed about 5,000 month-old oysters, each about the size of a nickel, in floating mesh beds that will protect them from predators as they mature.
The program is part of the Moriches Bay Project, an effort sponsored by the Barrier Beach Preservation Association (BBPA), an environmental advocacy organization based in the tiny, oceanfront village, as well as First Coastal Corporation, an environmental consulting company with offices in Westhampton Beach. Laura Fabrizio, president of the BBPA, said the project is dedicated to raising awareness about the ecosystem of the bay while restoring the wildlife that makes it so special.
“If you grew up around here, you have this inherent want to know more about this place,” Mr. Tetrault said, standing at the edge of the bay. “You do want to protect it. It’s important to protect it, and it’s also important to know how it all works in actuality—not a guess.”
Dwight Surgan of Westhampton, who works as a coastal environmental specialist for First Coastal, explained that once the oysters reach sexual maturity, which will take about three or four months, they will be used to seed artificial oyster reefs that the group is going to construct in the bay using old oyster shells. The mature oysters will spawn next summer when the water temperature rises above 60 degrees, he said.
“It would be really neat to leave a legacy where we are improving these conditions,” Mr. Surgan said.
He and Mr. Tetrault explained that a number of factors, including eutrophication, or the overabundance of nutrients that results in excess growth of algae and, consequently, oxygen depletion, has led to a decline in the shellfish populations in East End waters. Oysters are filter-feeders, meaning they clean the water by circulating it through their gills and straining out particles that they digest. One adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in a day.
“I try not to pay attention to how bad things are,” Mr. Tetrault said. “I’d rather pay attention to what you can do to make them better. And, quite simply, this act right here, no matter what happens, this group wins. Because even if a storm came and blew them up on the wetlands, we learned lessons.”
The mesh beds should be checked on every couple of weeks, though they do not require too much maintenance. Mr. Tetrault said volunteers will occasionally measure the oysters to see how they are growing.
The BBPA gave $2,000 to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to cover the costs of the project, according to Ms. Fabrizio
Sarah Scheckner, 7, of West Hampton Dunes, who is a member of the junior BBPA board, said she learned a lot about the ecosystem during Saturday’s event, though her favorite part of the morning was helping place one of the oyster beds in the bay.
Ms. Fabrizio explained that the members of the BBPA hope to encourage others along Moriches Bay to participate in the project, so that it will grow larger each year.
On Saturday, August 3, at 4 p.m., the organization is hosting an event at its community center, located at 906 Dune Road in West Hampton Dunes, during which participants can help weave eelgrass “tortillas” that will be planted in the bay. Eelgrass populations have also declined in recent years and their revitalization is important to the marine ecosystem.
“We want everyone who surrounds Moriches Bay to get involved in it,” Ms. Fabrizio said.