The health of Bellport Bay has received a big boost after 150,000 oysters were planted into the body of water to help cleanse it.
Brookhaven Town, for the second consecutive year, donated the shellfish to Friends of Bellport Bay, a group of village residents concerned about water quality in the bay.
Beyond water quality, the group hopes to reseed the bay with shellfish, including oysters and clams, and also to keep watch on an inlet carved across the barrier beach during October 2012’s superstorm Sandy.
The addition of oysters planted in the bay this month brought the total to 350,000. Roughly 60,000 clams and scallops have also been planted in the bay to help filter the bay and improve water quality.
“Our goal is to have one million shellfish in five years,” said Thomas Schultz, co-founder of the group. “Not only are we planting shellfish to improve the environment, but it will improve the population in the bay and support the shellfish industry.”
Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine praised the group for their environmental efforts.
“We love working with them,” he said. “They are dedicated to saving the bay.”
The supervisor said that Brookhaven has also donated thousands of shellfish to the Moriches Bay Project, another community group dedicated to keeping their bay clean.
Brookhaven raises the oyster seedlings at a Mount Sinai hatchery in Cedar Beach.
Across the town in recent years, Brookhaven has placed about 3 million oysters and clam seedlings in Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson harbors, the Great South Bay and bays along the North Shore.
Schultz said his group, which formed in 2014 and relies on donations of oysters and clams to restock the bay, hopes to address such issues as the cleanliness of the bay and whether the new inlet formed by Sandy should be closed.
Bellport Bay, at the eastern end of the Great South Bay, was the focus of debate after Sandy tore open the breach in the barrier beach. The breach is within the boundary of Fire Island National Seashore.
At the time, several federal, county and local officials called for the breach to be closed to protect South Shore communities from flooding.
Scientists and environmentalists argued that leaving the cut open could help flush pollutants from the bay and improve its overall health.
Schultz said while the shape of the inlet has changed, it is stable, hasn’t gotten larger and that the new inlet has improved the bay’s water quality.
“That’s one of the reasons we started planting shellfish,” Schultz said.
Still, he said, the U.S. Department of Interior is working on an environmental impact study to determine whether to close, stabilize or simply leave the inlet as is. Messages to the Interior Department were not returned.
“Our predication is that we’re going to let Mother Nature take its course,” Schultz said.