While some of their classmates are spending the summer parking cars and flipping burgers, more than a dozen high school and college students are helping to restore Long Island's shellfish population.
The students are part of Islip's new internship program at the town's East Islip shellfish hatchery, where they will help nurture clams and oysters from seeds until they are ready to be sold. The facility was established in 1987 to help replenish stocks of bivalves that have struggled amid overfishing and threats from brown tide and water pollution.
Town officials say the internships will help participants learn things they won't experience in books and classrooms, and at least one intern agrees.
"Definitely, I think you learn more with hands on," said Keriann Tenney, 23, of Oakdale. "You can learn it in a book, but you don’t get the hands-on until you get … [real life] experience."
The hatchery — officially known as the Great South Bay Shellfish Cultivation Facility — raises clam and oyster larvae in tanks until they can be moved into a section of the bay, where they mature until they are ready for sale. Most are sold to shellfish farmers, though they also are available to the public, said Marty Bellew, commissioner of Islip's Department of Environmental Control, which operates the hatchery.
Bellew says interns are performing tasks ranging from repairs and maintenance to recording data and using microscopes to inspect algae — a favorite food of shellfish — for contamination. The interns include students from Stony Brook University, the University of South Carolina, McGill University in Canada, and Islip, East Islip and Ronkonkoma high schools, he said.
"Our sites are educating the public about what we do," Bellew said. "We feel this is a good opportunity to offer the opportunity for people interested in the educational field."
Interns are not paid but can earn college credits. The program is open to anyone, though Islip Town residents receive preference, town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said.
The cost to the town is minimal, aside from expenses for supplies and recording work hours, Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said.
"That’s a small price to pay for the education that’s going to take place," she said. "And ultimately sharing it for the future and making a positive impact for the environment."
Tenney, who just graduated from St. Joseph's College in Patchogue and plans to begin studying for her master's in marine conservation and policy this fall at Stony Brook, says the internship will help build on her studies of microalgae, the small single-cell organisms that shellfish feed on.
"I just really wanted to get some real working experience in the field," said Tenney, crediting her St. Joseph's professors for piquing her interest in the subject. "I really like learning … how much work you get to put into maintaining that amount of animals.
"I’ve always been interested in the water growing up on Long Island," she said. "But going to school taught me more about the local ecosystems than I ever did growing up."
Internship program at the East Islip shellfish hatchery
Schedule: Six interns are working May 24 to July 9. Seven more are scheduled to work July 12 to Aug. 27
Salary: No pay, but interns are eligible for college credit
Eligibility: Anyone may apply. Islip Town residents receive priority
Duties: Maintenance, feeding clam and oyster larvae, using microscopes to inspect larvae food for contamination
Where they're from: Interns are students from Islip, East Islip and Ronkonkoma high schools; and Stony Brook University, the University of South Carolina, University of New Haven, Providence College in Rhode Island and McGill University in Montreal, Canada
Source: Town of Islip