Million oysters placed in Manhasset Bay to help ecosystem

Million oysters placed in Manhasset Bay to help ecosystem
Before being dispersed in three specific locations, oysters are handed off to board the boats. To help the local ecosystem, more than a million spat oysters were released into Manhasset Bay on Friday. (Photo by Steven Keehner)

To help the local ecosystem by enhancing the water quality and cleaning the bay, one million oysters were planted in Manhasset Bay on Friday morning.

In May, the Town of North Hempstead approved the resolution allowing the pilot program. At Town Dock Park, before heading out and scattering them, elected leaders celebrated the occasion.

Councilwoman Mariann Dalimonte presented the resolution at the April 28 Town Board meeting. On Friday, she said that initiatives like these are essential for officials to pursue.

“It’s imperative that government leaders do all they can to enhance our green spaces, reduce pollution and overall create healthier ecosystems,” she said, “both on land and in water.”

She said seeing her efforts realized for something she has been working on since her election in 2020 was a “dream come true.”

Both the bay and its oyster population have experienced recent difficulties. Although the exact cause is unknown, those associated with the bay say many factors may cause it, including algal blooms.

Oysters, which improve water quality via filter feeding, could help tackle the problem. A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water daily.

Two boats were dispatched to place the oysters in three chosen locations. Officials are keeping the spots secret to prevent tampering.

The Suffolk County Cornell Cooperative Extension is collaborating with the Town to run the program. The group has extensive experience in similar projects across Long Island. Marine Program Director Chris Pickerell said oyster planting is a regular practice.

“It does work,” he said. “We get very good survival based on how we plant them. So it’s proven technology that works and it’s a matter of testing the conditions at the specific sites.”

Pickerell said they will hand the program over to their sister organization, the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County.

“We’re producing the shellfish, providing the science and the boots on the ground,” he said. “But we want to hand it over to them to get involved and interact with the public.”

Lorne Brousseau, associate marine program director for the Cornell Cooperative, explained the science underpinning oyster restoration in May.

He said the oysters placed are spat. These are oyster larvae that have clung to something, like the surface of another oyster shell.

Over time, they will grow into masses known as oyster reefs or beds. The intention is for them to thrive and expand. This will allow for more filtering, cleaner water and a healthier ecosystem.

“It doesn’t mean you just throw in a couple of thousand oysters and suddenly you have a pristine bay,” Brousseau said. “It’s something that will take time over many, many years, even decades. But if you ‌get the oyster populations back, it will impact the long-term impact on the water quality.”

If this experimental program is expanded, it could take years to generate conclusive results. For now, the oysters’ survival rate will be monitored over the following few months. Then officials will next decide if the project should be expanded.

The parties involved emphasized that the program is only a pilot. If it is a success, North Hempstead Superviser Jennifer DeSena said the day might become an annual tradition where they’ll plant more oysters.

“A project like this stands to help not only our environment but also our residences and businesses as well by driving and promoting economic development,” she said. “Protecting our natural assets is a top priority for the town and I’m proud that we’re taking this major step today to make an investment in the health of Manhasset Bay.”

If the pilot succeeds, Dalimonte said she is working on another project for next spring. It would entail asking those near the bay to have their own oyster reef in a cage that they look after.

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