About 50 sixth graders from The Springs School met not far from their school, at the end of Landing Lane on the banks of Accabonac Harbor on the morning of Sept. 19 for what one student deemed “the most unexpected field trip ever.”
Wearing water shoes, wading boots, Crocs or in bare feet, all wearing heavy gloves, they tiptoed through the spartina grass at the edge of the harbor, and clutched the rails of a skiff piloted by East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery Director John ‘Barley’ Dunne, who brought them around a corner of this shallow, fertile harbor, to a special spot where South Fork Sea Farmers board member Bob Tymann was leading an unprecedented community science effort.
While en route, East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery Bay Specialist Marissa Velasquez held high a mesh bag of slick and slimy clam and oyster shells, just a bit bigger than a volleyball.
Fiddler crabs crawled out between the shells and dropped onto the deck of the boat as the kids watched, fascinated. Today, their task, said Ms. Velasquez, was to form an assembly line carrying these balls of shells out from the shoreline to a spot several yards from shore where they would stack them, creating the substrate for a brand new oyster reef that organizers hope will help clean the waters of Accabonac Harbor for years to come.
Their team efforts were led by interns for South Fork Sea Farmers from East Hampton High School, who arrived at the site earlier that morning via boat from East Hampton Town’s Gann Road dock in Three Mile Harbor.
South Fork Sea Farmers searched the world to find biodegradable mesh bags to use for the project, eventually finding them in The Netherlands. The bags will degrade over time as the oyster reef is naturally fused together by oysters grown by the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery and seeded onto this substrate.
Accabonac Harbor and the community surrounding it has historically been one of the most fertile shellfishing grounds on the East End — the baymen of East Hampton, who for generations had proudly called themselves “Bonackers,” take this nickname from Accabonac Harbor.
But, like many of our local waterways, the section of the harbor picked for the reef is currently closed to shellfishing, said Kathy Masters, a South Fork Sea Farmers board member, who was on hand to answer questions about the project on the morning of Sept. 19.
This closure, in an area that doesn’t get a lot of water fall, makes the site an ideal spot for a restoration project because it will likely not be disturbed. South Fork Sea Farmers has been working with the East Hampton Town Trustees and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for more than a year on the permits for the project.
South Fork Sea Farmers started “about six years ago, to encourage oyster growing, not just for consumption and enjoyment, but for their water filtering capabilities,” said Frank Quevedo, who serves both as the President of South Fork Sea Farmers and as Executive Director of the South Fork Natural History Museum.
The group has worked in partnership with the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery to encourage public participation in community shellfish gardens in Three Mile Harbor, Napeague, Montauk and Hog Creek. All of those gardens are full as community interest in oyster growing has blossomed, said Ms. Masters and Mr. Quevedo.
“We want to expand into other towns,” said Ms. Masters. “We also hope private dock owners can get involved.
For more information, visit www.southforkseafarmers.org.