An East End environmental group and local officials have announced plans to expand oyster beds in Moriches Bay.
Officials from the nonprofit Moriches Bay Project, which first planted an oyster garden in the bay three years ago, said they plan to plant 20,000 seeds off Westhampton Beach and West Hampton Dunes Village, and plant eelgrass, which provides habitat and protection for fish and shellfish, this summer while studying the bay's water.
Rebuilding oyster beds -- which were depleted by decades of overharvesting and environmental hazards such as brown tide -- will improve water quality, officials said. One adult oyster filters 50 gallons of water a day, they said.
"We're putting a million oysters into Moriches Bay, and we're not going to stop until we do," Moriches Bay Project co-director Aram Terchunian said Friday during a news conference at Windswept Marina in East Moriches.
Terchunian and co-director Laura Fabrizio were joined by Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), Brookhaven and Southampton town officials and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk executive director Vito Minei, who said they support the group's efforts. The bay straddles the Brookhaven and Southampton border.
"You have an entire island rooting for you," Zeldin said.
Fabrizio said her group placed about 40,000 oyster seeds in the bay last year, and 80 percent survived. Oyster seeds are contributed by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Project officials said they hope to eventually double the bay's oysters each year and expand oyster seedings west toward Mastic Beach. Public lectures and education programs also are planned this summer.
Project officials also plan to install data loggers this month to measure water temperature, salinity, light and other conditions in the bay. The information will help select future oyster bed sites, officials said.
Fabrizio said the water monitoring program would cost about $30,000. The project is funded through donations and fundraisers such as a June 27 cocktail party in West Hampton Dunes.
Terchunian said the project's program is modeled on efforts to restore shellfish beds and improve water quality in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island.
Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said Brookhaven, which has its own clam and oyster seeding program, plans to plant "tens of thousands" of mollusks in local waters.
"We all share this bay together, and it's important that we keep that in mind and protect this bay together," Romaine said.