Most high school students spend summer break doing anything but schoolwork.But for one teenager, who splits her time between Southampton and Rockville Centre, this summer has been dedicated to science—the creation of a sustainable oyster garden.
The project, which 17-year-old Elizabeth Davoli started more than a year ago, is an attempt to help revitalize the East End’s oyster population. With any luck, it will also earn the soon-to-be senior a Gold Award from the Girl Scouts.
“A lot of girls don’t stick with it,” Elizabeth said in an interview last week. “They never complete their Gold Award, so I will have a real sense of pride when I finish.”
Her project is a part of the Southampton Town division of the Southold Project in Aquaculture Training, or SPAT, program—an effort by Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Southampton Town Trustees and the Parks and Recreation Department dedicated to reintroducing oysters into local waters. For her project, Elizabeth has been working with the marine sciences program at Stony Brook Southampton. She was given 1,000 oyster seeds to tend to, and when they are old enough, Stony Brook Southampton will transplant the young oysters onto oyster reefs, where they will work to safely filter bay water.
Elizabeth got the idea for her project from her dad, Henry, who also raises oysters. With the help of her mom, Cecelia, and 19-year-old brother, Henry, she is attempting to create an oyster reef in Shinnecock Bay under their back deck on Little Neck Road.
“With the reef, the oysters will be able to reproduce by themselves and eventually become self-sustaining,” she said. “Then we won’t have to interfere with the growing process.”
Once Elizabeth got the oysters, she separated them into bunches of 150, then put them into bags, and then cages. The cages float in a sectioned-off areas of the bay behind Elizabeth’s house. Elizabeth has a second batch of oysters in Tiana Bay in Hampton Bays to compare how the oysters grow in different environments. Once a week, she checks on the oysters, monitors their growth and development, and, when they are large enough, separates them into their own cages.
Currently, between Elizabeth’s project and her father’s, there are approximately 4,000 oysters in the Davolis’ backyard. Once the oysters are fully grown, they are given back to Stony Brook University to be studied.
“I haven’t really seen anything like this project,” said Barbara McFadden, Elizabeth’s troop leader. “One of the purposes to do the Gold Award is to do something good that will sustain the community. She is doing that.”
Elizabeth has been a member of Girl Scout Troop 833 in Rockville Centre since kindergarten. She said she joined the group to be with her friends, all of whom joined at the same time. Over the years, she said, a lot of her friends have fallen out of the group, but she fell in love with the organization.
Elizabeth said she has always been interested in the water and sustaining bodies of water on the East End. An avid sailor and junior member of the Southampton Yacht Club, she said she has been on the water her whole life. Elizabeth said she does not know where she wants to go to college yet, or what she will study, but that her time has sailing taught her an appreciation for the water.
“You have to always respect the water,” she said.