Thousands of oysters were planted in Moriches Bay Tuesday as part of an effort to reduce nitrogen levels in the water.

Officials hope the shellfish will also help clean up the Forge River in Mastic, which flows into the bay.

"We want a self-sustaining oyster population in the bay so we can restore the filtering capacity of the bay," said Aram Terchunian, co-founder of the nonprofit Moriches Bay Project.

Brookhaven officials announced the reseeding program, which the town is doing in cooperation with the Moriches Bay Project, during a Tuesday morning news conference at the Forge River Marina in Mastic.

"The Forge River is synonymous with rivers that have trouble, and that is also true to a lesser extent with the Moriches Bay," Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said at the gathering. "One way to deal with the quality of water is to let nature filter it."

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The goal is to seed the bay with thousands of clams and oysters, which filter pollutants out of the water, and to plant eelgrass to add oxygen, officials said. About 16,000 oyster seeds were planted in the bay Tuesday.

The Forge River has a history of water quality issues and is considered impaired due to excessive levels of nitrogen entering the river.

Town Councilman Dan Panico, who represents Mastic, said, "This area used to have a vibrant shellfish industry and we used to have better water quality."

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Officials say nitrogen sources in the river and bay come from storm-water runoff and residential septic systems. Scientists say high levels of nitrogen turn the water dark, which prevents sunlight from reaching the bay bottom and encourages blooms of oxygen-absorbing algae.