Garrett Chelius, Huntington's deputy director for Maritime Services, hopes the implementation of sugar kelp will help clean Long Island waterways and serve as a natural fertilizer at town facilities. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The Town of Huntington has joined forces with a local nonprofit and marine experts to farm sugar kelp in its harbors to help improve water quality and use the seaweed's byproduct as a fertilizer at town parks and beaches.

Between Christmas and Jan. 1, the town planted 200 feet of kelp line at each of the town's seven harbors — in Asharoken, Centerport, Cold Spring Harbor, Eaton’s Neck, Huntington Bay, Lloyd Harbor and Northport — said Garrett Chelius, the town's deputy director of Maritime Services. 

The kelp, which comes on a spool, is attached about 3 feet below the water's surface on a line between two 30-foot chains. The chains are secured by a buoy on top and an anchor at the bottom. The kelp is wrapped around the line and grows downward, Chelius said.

"Sugar kelp is a long green ribbon," Chelius said. "Think of it as a long piece of lettuce dangling in the water." 


  • The Town of Huntington has joined forces with Rotary Environmental Action Coalition of Huntington and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program in a kelp farming program.
  • The town planted 1,400 feet of sugar kelp in seven locations between Christmas and Jan. 1 in an effort to help improve water quality.
  • Once harvested and dried, the byproduct can be used as a natural fertilizer.

The town coordinated with the Rotary Environmental Action Coalition of Huntington, known as REACH, and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program. REACH is providing volunteers to assist with the program while Cornell offers the scientific component. The town is using staffing resources from the maritime department but is not spending additional money for kelp farming. 

After the plants are harvested in late April or early May, they will be pulverized into fertilizer to be used at town parks, golf courses, beaches and in residential gardens.

“It’s a really good end-to-end solution to help the environment,” Chelius said.

Sugar kelp absorbs nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide from the water as it grows. High levels of nitrogen lead to algae blooms, while high levels of carbon dioxide make the waters more acidic. 

Christine Suter, interim executive director of the nonprofit Friends of the Bay, an Oyster Bay-based water advocacy group, said high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus are common in Long Island waters. Nutrient pollution contributes to low oxygen levels in the water and is harmful to marine life, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“The biggest problem is outdated septic systems,” she said. “We have non nitrogen-treating septic systems throughout a lot of the North Shore of Long Island, and that is the biggest contributor to nitrogen.”

Chelius said high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Huntington waters are consistent with waters along the North Shore of Long Island, and the town is using kelp farming as a management tool. 

"It's a program that benefits both boaters and bathers," he said. "And if we harvest it, we can help people improve their gardens. We can help the town plant natural pollinators that improve the landscape." 

On Wednesday, Chelius joined members from REACH and the Cornell marine program as they headed out with the tides to check on kelp growth at the Lloyd Harbor and Huntington Bay locations. 

Chelius said "the program is off to a good season," noting the kelp looked consistent and healthy. "Once into March it will really start to grow a lot."

Oscar Ikinya, a Rotarian from Kenya and aquaculture specialist, accompanied the team as a guest to exchange ideas on growing kelp. 

In Kenya, he said, he founded a company that advises on processing seaweed for food, feed and fertilizer.

“I see the potential they have here, and I hope I can contribute,” he said.

Chelius said Long Island's location makes kelp farming a challenge because it requires water temperatures below 55 degrees.

The town last year launched a pilot program, planting two 100-foot lines, which yielded 250 pounds of wet kelp. Once processed, it produced six 5-pound buckets of natural fertilizer the town used at some of its parks, Chelius said.

Sugar kelp cultivation has gained momentum

Oyster Bay Town has farmed sugar kelp, according to a 2022 town statement, and Indigenous-owned and operated Shinnecock Kelp Farmers on the East End has been operating since 2020.

In 2021, the state approved a pilot program to allow commercial cultivation in Peconic and Gardiners bays through 2026. But in December 2022, Gov. Kathy Hochul vetoed a bill to expand seaweed cultivation in the state's marine waters, saying more time is needed to assess the pilot program.

The New York City-based Moore Family Charitable Foundation, through its nonprofit Lazy Point Farms LLC, donated the sugar kelp spools to the town. The nonprofit also donated a greenhouse, where the sugar kelp will be processed. The greenhouse will be constructed on town property in Halesite in the next few weeks, Chelius said.

Of the 1,400 feet of kelp planted, a few hundred pounds of lush green kelp is expected to be harvested from each farming location, Chelius said. He said some of the yield will be available for residents for fertilizer.

James Wylie, president of REACH Rotary Club, which is dedicated to environmental service projects, has worked with the town on an oyster reef program. Partnering with the town on the sugar kelp farming made synergistic sense, Wylie said.

“This is what Rotary does,” he said. “It gets like-minded, passionate people together to come up with practical solutions to pressing problems.”

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