From left, Chris Pickerell, marine program director at Cornell Cooperative...

From left, Chris Pickerell, marine program director at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, with North Hempstead Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte and Lorne Brousseau, Cornell Cooperative's associate marine program director, who are scouting locations for a new pilot oyster restoration project on Manhasset Bay. Credit: Danielle Silverman

 North Hempstead officials introduced a pilot program that aims to add oysters back into Manhasset Bay to improve water quality and reestablish marine habitats.

The town, along with officials from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, seek to add about 1 million spat-on-shell baby oysters to three parts of the bay. Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte, who heads the initiative, says she’s been working on the restoration project for the past two years. She says the pilot program will cost about $19,400, but she’s pushing to secure grant funding to expand the program.

“This is the beginning, every year we’re going to add more and more,” Dalimonte said. “This helps everybody in the Town of North Hempstead. If your bay is clean, it promotes economic development. It’s going to bring people from other communities here to rent a kayak, a paddle boat, a boat.”

On May 11, Cornell Cooperative marine program director Christopher H. Pickerell and associate marine program director Lorne Brousseau identified three locations that are suitable for planting the oysters. Their goal is to add at least 350,000 spat-on-shell oysters, which could be a couple of millimeters in size when planted, to each location and determine how well they adapt and survive. Pickerell said they were hoping to get about 50% or more survival rate among the young oysters.

“This is good from a water quality and habitat perspective in that they create these nooks and crannies, where various organisms, fish and shrimp can hide,” Pickerell said. “Ultimately we’d like to get a substantial population in the bay that will help filter the water.”

Chris Pickerell, marine program director at Cornell Cooperatve Extension of...

Chris Pickerell, marine program director at Cornell Cooperatve Extension of Suffolk County, says officials hope to get about 50% or more survival rate among the young oysters introduced in Manhasset Bay through a pilot program. Credit: Danielle Silverman

Eventually, and if the pilot is successful, more oysters can be added that will feed on the algae in the bay, which will in turn increase water clarity and possibly allow for other species of plants to grow in the bay, Pickerell said.

With the areas identified, the Cornell officials will likely return in June, when a diver will further examine the locations to determine whether the surface is firm and whether other threats are present, such as micro algae that can suffocate the oysters. They’re aiming to plant the oysters in July or August.

Sarah Deonarine, executive director of Manhasset Bay Protection Committee — an intermunicipal organization focused on addressing water quality and coastal issues — says the bay “needs these types of innovative projects both on land and in the Bay” to tackle the pollution problems.

"This is a really exciting project and one I never thought I'd see happen since the main concern for Manhasset Bay is bacteria pollution and the permitting agency couldn't see past a fear of people getting sick,” Deonarine said in a statement, “But adding shellfish, such as oysters, back into the Bay is a major step in the restoration of Manhasset Bay as these filter feeders will remove bacteria already present in the water as well as abating other pollutants, such as nutrients.”

About oysters

"When oysters reproduce, they spawn tiny larvae that freely navigate the water column until they find an appropriate habitat with a structure to settle on. Once the larvae permanently attach to a surface, they are known as spat."

Since oysters are filter feeders and keep the water clean, this promotes the growth of underwater grasses, like wild celery, which serve as a habitat for other species.

Oyster beds create "large, complex structures where many aquatic species, such as fish and crabs, hunt for food and hide from predators."

Source: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 

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