Shinnecock Bay Named a Mission Blue “Hope Spot”

Pictured Above: Stony Brook researchers set oysters on the man-made reefs in Shinnecock Bay | ShiRP photo

Mission Blue, a global coalition of environmentalists working to support protected marine areas, has named Shinnecock Bay a “Hope Spot” due to the work being done to revive its ecosystem. 

The honor, bestowed in a June 6 ceremony in New York City, makes Shinnecock Bay the first Hope Spot in New York State, and the only one near a major metropolitan area — other Hope Spots include the Galapagos Islands and the Ross Sea in Antarctica. 

Mission Blue cited the “nine thousand acres of open water, salt marshes, intertidal flats and seagrass beds” in the bay, along with “a remarkable variety of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, invertebrates and other wildlife” that live and migrate through the bay as its contribution as a stronghold for imperiled species, “both in New York State and globally.”

The designation is also in recognition of the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program implemented by Stony Brook University, which creates and populates clam sanctuaries, constructs oyster reefs and reseeds seagrass beds throughout the bay.

“What a concept, in the shadow of one of the most densely populated parts of the planet – New York City!” says Dr. Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue. “While New York conjures up visions of skyscrapers and crowded streets, it is a great ocean state with a significant coastline, a rich maritime heritage and growing opportunities to view ocean wildlife from the shores and in the water.”

Shinnecock Bay has long been a site of spiritual value and renewal, for the Shinnecock Indian Nation and generations of baymen who’ve built their lives along the bay.

ShiRP team and Master Teachers on a research vessel at the bay. | Mission Blue photo by Conor Harrington

“Shinnecock Bay is arguably the healthiest bay in the state of New York, and is indisputably an ideal example of a once degraded bay that has shown significant recovery due to restoration efforts,” says Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, Executive Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University, who was instrumental in starting the restoration program, and who nominated the bay to become a Hope Spot, along with Shinnecock Tribal Member Dr. Kelsey Leonard and Trustee Kelly Dennis, and the Explorers Club.

Long Island supplied two-thirds of the shellfish in the United States until the brown tide disaster of 1985, said Dr. Pikitch. 

“Brown algae is particularly bad for wildlife because it prevents deep sunlight from penetrating through and ends up suffocating everything in the water,” she said, adding that the restoration effort works to use shellfish to filter the water.“We’ve seen a remarkable spillover effect. Clam densities in the areas outside the sanctuaries have increased clam landings to levels not seen since 1985.”

Plans are underway for an Inaugural Shinnecock Hope Spot Expedition by the Explorers Club, which is currently in the fundraising phase and is hoped to launch in 2023.

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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