Abigail Maler, Samantha Maynard, Benjamin Lapinel, Shannon Stalzer and Madeline Samtani, seen...

Abigail Maler, Samantha Maynard, Benjamin Lapinel, Shannon Stalzer and Madeline Samtani, seen here on Nov. 23, participated in a community oyster garden project this summer. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Sea Cliff-based nonprofit recently completed a pilot community oyster garden program, where several young residents spent their free time volunteering and learning about environmental issues.

The Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor, a nonprofit founded in 1986 by citizens concerned about water quality, launched the project this summer, where volunteers observed the oysters and monitored their growth. Volunteers raised some 30,000 spat-on-shell oysters, which were introduced to Hempstead and Cold Spring harbors in an effort to bolster oyster populations, a keystone species and vital for clean water. A single oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water a day. The coalition is now fundraising for its second year. 

The oyster garden seed was first planted in early 2022 by Teri Moschetta, 63, of Glen Cove, who had volunteered at a similar project in Oyster Bay. 

“I thought, why aren’t we doing this in Hempstead Harbor?” she told Newsday. 

WHAT TO KNOW

  • The Coalition to Save Hempstead Harbor recently wrapped up a pilot community oyster garden project where volunteers helped raise approximately 30,000 spat-on-shell oysters. 
  • Oysters are a keystone species and are important for clean water. 
  • A single oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water a day. 

Moschetta pitched the idea to the coalition, which, with the help of some 30 volunteers from Hempstead Harbour Club, Sea Cliff Yacht Club and Tappen Marina, completed the pilot in October.. The oysters were raised for restoration, not consumption, and will hopefully continue to grow and reproduce in the Long Island waters, volunteers said. 

The pilot was so successful that oyster garden manager Martha Braun said the community-led program will return next year and will potentially double in size. The program cost about $10,000 this year, which the coalition raised, she said. Next year's garden sites have not yet been selected. 

The program "gets people curious about water quality issues and what they can do to help,” Braun said.

One of the volunteers whose curiosity was piqued by the project was Benjamin Lapinel, 10, of Sea Cliff, who volunteered this summer at Tappen Marina, where he meticulously cleaned the oyster cages and measured the minuscule one-centimeter shellfish as they rapidly quadrupled in size.

“It was nice knowing the fact that I helped the environment,” he said. “One, it was a nice feeling. Two, it was fun. I didn’t think it would end up being fun. … The fun part was measuring them.” 

The experience cemented a love of environmental conservation for Lapinel, who said he thinks his oyster hobby will continue in the years to come. 

Lapinel isn’t the only young volunteer who discovered a newfound appreciation of oysters. 

Samantha Maynard, 17, of Sea Cliff, volunteered with her mother, Robin Maynard, 50, at the Sea Cliff Yacht Club’s oyster garden, where she and Abigail Maler led the club’s junior environmental committee as they participated in the program and maintained the wire cages where the oysters grew on other shells.

Some of the children were initially cautious of the oysters, but that trepidation was quickly replaced by interest and awe, Maynard said. Every Sunday, about 15 members of the environmental group cared for the oysters. 

Volunteers said they hope the program will spark curiosity and important conversations about the environment. 

“There’s so much that we get from the shore, whether it’s the fish or the clams, to be part of helping sustain that, after learning about the work of the coalition, it’s just a no-brainer,” Moschetta said.

Latest videos