New Oyster Reef Restoration Efforts Underway on Shelter Island

The Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program, Sylvester Manor Farm, the Town of Shelter Island and local restaurants have teamed up to build an oyster reef and shell recycling program on Shelter Island.

“CCE Marine Program has been working with the Town of Shelter Island for decades to help enhance shellfish populations in town waters, and these efforts are now being expanded,” said  CCE Marine Program Outreach Manager  Kim Barbour. “The addition of a satellite shellfish nursery site for remote oyster setting will enable millions of spat-on-shell oysters to be produced right on Shelter Island, and create stewardship opportunities for the community to be involved with this work.”   

A new remote location on the island now hosts a specially designed tank that will enable larval oysters to be set onto recycled oyster shell. Once large enough, they will be deployed in Coecles Harbor to form a new oyster reef. The goal is to make this restoration site part of CCE’s network of “Back to the Bays Stewardship Sites” which are designated to be long term receiving areas for the spat-on-shell oysters, and also other species like eelgrass and bay scallops.”

“We recognize that robust shellfish populations are a critical component of a healthy marine ecosystem and we are hopeful this program can further enhance our local waterways,” said Shelter Island Town Supervisor Gerry Siller.

In the inaugural year, the goal is to successfully produce at least one cycle of spat-on-shell at the selected grow out location in Coecles Harbor to ensure it is suitable to support a larger scale oyster reef in future years if funding and resources permit. CCE’s experts will also begin assessing the suitability of the location to conduct eelgrass restoration and additional shellfish enhancement projects in future years.   

Another aspect of the effort being launched this year is the shell recycling effort. Larval oysters prefer to set on shell, specifically oyster shell, so by collecting it from local restaurants and curing it this summer, adequate substrate will be available to set additional oysters on next year.

Sylvester Manor Educational Farm has partnered with CCE Marine to host the shell recycling site, which will be the receiving area for the shell collected for the oyster reef project.  

“Sylvester Manor is excited to be participating in the new Shelter Island division of Back to the Bays by serving as the “shell curing” location,” said Sylvester Manor Director of Operations Tracy McCarthy. “This is a crucial step for ensuring that new species or diseases aren’t transferred to our bays by allowing the shells to dry in the sun for 6 to 12 months. Our partnership with CCE will be keeping thousands of shells from entering the landfill and will help fulfill our need to be stewards of both lands and water.”

Limiting shell waste from reaching the landfill and instead beneficially reusing it for this important oyster reef effort is a win-win.

SALT restaurant was the first restaurant on the island to enthusiastically sign on to participate, recognizing this as a great effort to give back to the bays. Buckets of shell have been delivered to Sylvester Manor weekly from SALT, and additional partner restaurants will soon follow suit as CCE works to expand the recycling network. 

If you are interested in volunteering, becoming a shell recycling partner, or making a contribution in support of this work, visit https://backtothebays.org/shelter-island-stewardship-site or contact Back to the Bays Aquaculture Coordinator Kate Rossi-Snook at kr474@cornell.edu 

To learn more about CCE Marine Program and its Back to the Bays Initiative, visit backtothebays.org or follow @CCEMarineProgram and #backtothebays 

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at beth@peconicbathtub.com

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