Last Friday, atop a bluff over Shinnecock Bay, Danielle Hopson Begunprocessed the season’s first kelp harvest as part of a program to help return the vital waterway to its pristine past after centuries of exploitation and development.
Hopson Begun, a member of the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers and the Shinnecock Indian Nation, said the harvest — 10 lines of ribbonlike kelp around 100-feet long — had only minor complications, requiring more maintenance than expected after some of the kelp was overcome by slip-gut, a “goopy brown algae.”
The dried and processed kelp will be used as a soil amendment for gardens, including by the Sisters of St. Joseph, which have donated space for the six Shinnecock women to use for the project. Profits have been elusive, but no matter, said Hopson Begun, because “cleaning up the bay is really the only reason we’re doing this,” she said.
Work by conservationists and academia to restore the wildly diverse Shinnecock Bay helped the waterway receive the recent honor of being named one of the world’s Hope Spots by an international ocean conservation group known as Mission Blue.
The group, in announcing the designation, said it was a recognition of Shinnecock Bay’s “substantial ecological, scenic, touristic, economic, spiritual and cultural significance.”
It was also a recognition of Stony Brook University’s Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program, which “creates and populates clam sanctuaries, constructs oyster reefs and reseeds sea grass beds” to help restore the bay, with open ocean access through Shinnecock Inlet, to something more approximating its pre-colonial status, when the Shinnecock tribe was its primary steward.
Mission Blue’s founder, Sylvia Earle, cited Shinnecock Bay’s proximity to a major metropolitan area and work by Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, which nominated the waterway for the designation.
“While New York conjures up visions of skyscrapers and crowded streets, it is a great ocean state with a significant coastline, a rich maritime heritage and growing opportunities to view ocean wildlife from the shores and in the water,” Earle said in a statement.
“Shinnecock Bay is arguably the healthiest bay in New York State, and our work demonstrates that people can reverse the damage done through nature-based, scientifically guided restoration,” said Ellen Pikitch, the endowed professor of ocean conservation science at Stony Brook and director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.
Shinnecock Bay consists of 9,000 acres of open water, salt marshes, intertidal flats and sea grass beds, and the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program has worked to restore it by stocking it with more than 3.5 million hard clams and building oyster reefs. Establishment of so-called spawner sanctuaries on the bay over the past decade has increased hard-clam harvests by more than 1,000%, Stony Brook said.