Ten oysters clustered in a circle could be seen at the bottom by a post in front of the Bellport Bay Yacht Club.
Talk about a serendipitous photo op!
“This is a very rewarding moment,” said Thomas Schultz, a Friends of Bellport Bay co-founder with Katia Read as they leaned over. “I received emails from people, that they’ve seen oysters along the shoreline. It means they’re settling in.”
“People watch out for them,” added Read, vice president and chair for the not-for-profit FoBB. (Read started an oyster garden under her backyard dock in 2016 after getting a DEC permit.)
FoBB has planted 1 million oysters since its forming in 2015.
“Our goal is to plant 500,000 to a million oysters in 2021,” said Schultz, who is also president. But they’ve actually hit two milestones; their new executive director is 21-year-old Rae Specht.
“I started working with them last summer when I came home from college early and helped with the growing and cleaning a few times a week,” said Specht, who is studying environmental science and English Literature at Cornell University. “I was so inspired and helped whenever I could. Then, all my classes went online.”
More young people are coming on board, she said. “We partnered with Bellport High School’s Women in Science & Engineering program for students interested in the science field, and also the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area,” Specht said. “There weren’t a lot of job opportunities during Covid, so it was a good experience for them.”
Friends of Bellport Bay now has two high school interns; Schultz’s children 13-year-old Lila, 11-year-old Rowan and 10-year-old Anna have been involved over the last five years along with some others.
Why cultivate oysters?
Each adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of bay water per day and are efficient at consuming harmful nitrogen in the water. Their waste deposits in the bay bottom act as organic fertilizer for plants like eelgrass, important for a healthy ecosystem.
FoBB members have pitched in growing the hard shell creatures as babies, or spat, in the community oyster garden near the marina. Cornell Cooperative Extension implements the fertilization process, a marvel in itself. FoBB buys spat from them. Brookhaven Town has also donated spat and last year, FoBB partnered with The Nature Conservancy and The Pew Charitable Trusts to plant tens of thousands of overstocked shellfish from shellfish farmers whose businesses were affected by Covid. (FoBB also plants scallops, clams and eelgrass.)
“Sometimes it requires 10-15 volunteers when it comes to sorting them and cleaning at the Brookhaven Town oyster nursery at Cedar Beach and planting them by us,” Schultz said. “Sometimes we rely on our paid interns. This year we have almost 40 cages, which will grow out 500,000 oysters by the late summer of 2021."
The oysters are placed into mesh bags, which protects them against predators, and the bags are then placed into bottom cages kept in the bay where they will grow. Part of the process includes cleaning them in the mesh bags of algae and mud twice a season by power washing.
Schultz explained that the cages are kept underneath private docks along the Bellport Bay shoreline. “The owners become stewards,” Schultz said.
“We service the cages throughout the summer to make sure they are secure and clean. When they grow to an inch and a half, we plant them in our shellfish sanctuary. The town designated a two-acre area as a Friends of Bellport Bay Management area.”