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Greenport teen uses YouTube, research in family's oyster business

Each year, Newsday receives nominations from principals, teachers and guidance counselors in Nassau and Suffolk counties about students who exemplify the best of qualities: Kindness, perseverance, humility, thoughtfulness, determination, altruism. Here are some of the students that reflect those qualities. Credit: Newsday / Khristopher J. Brooks/Janelle Griffith

Plump but petite.

That’s not just the desired shape of an oyster. It’s what motivated Mercator Osinski two years ago to build a system of growing the shellfish that would benefit his family’s Greenport oyster farm — and the environment.

“Oysters are so important to me that they have become a part of me,” said Osinski, of Greenport. “Living and working on an oyster farm for the last 18 years — and more to come — has shown me the importance that these animals have in cleaning the bay and producing a healthy environment for other aquatic animals.”

Osinski began collecting data for kusshi, an experimental oyster growing technique that uses the tides to sculpt the most desirable shape of the filter-feeding organisms. The method requires pilings — large poles driven into the water — to support the lines where oysters grow in suspension.

His greatest obstacle was financing. Each piling costs hundreds of dollars, Osinski said, and the barge and labor to install them is even more expensive. He was inspired by the area’s suspension bridges, namely the Queensboro and Brooklyn bridges, to create a similar design such that the cable on which the oyster purses are attached is supported by the suspension ropes fastened to the pilings.

Osinski and his family installed the cross beams, cabling and support braces. A local dock builder installed the pilings, which required a barge and crane. The Osinskis built a dock alongside the system that supports a sorting machine, electric winches and other electrical equipment.

It took Osinski about two weeks to design the system. He said he applied welding, carpentry and electrical skills he picked up from watching YouTube videos, and sought advice from neighbors skilled in those professions.

His system resulted in greater yield at the farm and a higher demand from customers. Since oysters are well-known to filter the water of contaminants and excess algae, the increased production and volume of the shellfish will also have a positive environmental impact on the Peconic Bay, Osinski said.

Osinski, an aspiring mechanical engineer, will graduate fourth in his class. He was inducted into the National Honor Society and the National Math and Science Honor societies.

His chemistry teacher, Marion Sarafin, said Osinski “constantly thinks out of the box,” is diligent, conscientious and seeks knowledge for the pleasure of learning. He didn’t need four walls to absorb some of life’s most important lessons.

“Oysters have indirectly taught me what hard work, dedication and responsibility is,” Osinski said.

HIGHER ED: He will attend Yale University and major in mechanical engineering.

FRESHMAN YEAR: “I most look forward to being immersed in an environment of like-minded peers and professors who are equally — if not more — fascinated about learning and building devices to better the plight of the world.”

IF I RULED THE WORLD: “I would reduce humanity’s detrimental waste by building more efficient and effective structures to harness renewable energy sources as well as dispose of our nonbiodegradable garbage.”

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