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Tons of clam shells put in bay to create new habitat for marine life

Hempstead Town created a sanctuary on the ocean floor with 12 tons of shells that will later hold millions of oyster and clam seedlings.

On Friday, Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen joined Cornell aquaculture specialist Gregg Rivara at Baldwin Bay as he sprayed 12 tons of surf clam shells into the bay. (Credit: Barry Sloan)

Armed with a fire hose, aquaculture specialist Gregg Rivara sprayed 12 tons of surf clamshells into Baldwin Bay to create a habitat on the ocean floor for new oysters and marine life.

During the next three months, biologists and Hempstead Town conservation and waterways workers will dump 1.5 million market-size clams and 8 million oyster seedlings into the bay to build a sea life sanctuary that also is designed to boost water filtering.

The project is part of a $5.3 million grant awarded by the State Department of Environmental Conservation to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, which is also servicing sites in South Oyster Bay, Huntington, Bellport and Shinnecock Bay.

Officials said they must first lay down a base layer of the surf clamshells and fragments to create a rocky surface on the normally muddy ocean floor so that oyster seedlings don’t sink into the ground.

The clamshells, which are harvested off the coast of New York and stripped for bait and clam strips, are treated for a year to eliminate bacteria before workers spray them into bay.

The Town of Hempstead also received $400,000 from the governor’s office to expand the shellfish hatchery in Point Lookout, to contribute oyster seedlings to be deposited into the bay.

Biologists raised the 4-month-old oyster seedlings on shells, which were then thrown on top of the clamshell habitat where they can grow to full size in the next year. A full-grown oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.

With an additional 8 million oysters planned in the water next year, town officials hope the new oysters can some day filter up to 200 million gallons of water per day.

The shell habitat is also expected to attract other marine life such as fish and blue claw crabs seeking protection from predators.

“We’re looking at improving ways to repopulate our waterways and back bays with shellfish that were once so prevalent here,” Hempstead Supervisor Laura Gillen said. “This will create new ecosystems to support our marine life and these shellfish will help keep our waterways clean for generations to come.”

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