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Nov 20, 2018 4:14 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

More Than A Million Oysters Now In Moriches Bay, Thanks To Program

Oysters ready to be placed in the two oyster beds in Moriches Bay. COURTESY MORICHES BAY PROJECT
Nov 20, 2018 4:14 PM

A record number of roughly 500,000 adult oysters were placed in Moriches Bay on November 12 by the Moriches Bay Project and its partner, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, raising the total number of oysters the project has placed in the bay to almost 1.3 million.

At the end of its fifth summer season, the Moriches Bay Project team collected about 400,000 oysters from three of its floating upwelling systems, or FLUPSYS, and about 100,000 from its four working oyster farms. They then were placed in two undisclosed oyster beds in the bay to filter excess nitrogen and algae, according to Laura Fabrizio, the project’s co-founder and director.

“I’m very proud of my team. They did an incredible job, and I just want to applaud them,” Ms. Fabrizio said. “It’s really important to us that all volunteers and sponsors know that we appreciate what they do.”

In June, the oysters were put into the FLUPSYS facilities—systems that pump nutrient-rich water through holding cells to promote oyster growth—located at the Westhampton Beach Village Marina and the Quogue dock.

The project’s staff and volunteers maintained them on a weekly basis until they were collected in November. They were able to grow over twice as many oysters this season in the FLUPSYS than they did last season, which only grew 150,000 oysters. Ms. Fabrizio said she considered last year a “learning curve” in terms of using the upwelling systems.

The project began placing oysters in the bay at the end of every summer since 2013, 400,000 of which were put in just last year. Upward of 90 percent of all oysters are still living in the beds, the project’s director and co-founder, Aram Terchunian, said, adding that they can live up to 25 years.

Oysters are filter feeders, meaning that they draw in water and digest any particles trapped in their mucus, including harmful pollutants. One oyster filters approximately 50 gallons of water per day, according to the project’s 2017 annual report, meaning that its current 1.28 million oysters will filter around 23 billion gallons of water in a year.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation have identified Moriches Bay as having excess nitrogen, according to the project’s annual report, so the oysters help lower the amount of nitrogen in the water. Last year’s 775,000 total oysters removed 478 pounds of nitrogen in a year. This year’s nearly 1.3 million oysters are expected to remove around 787 pounds of nitrogen in a year.

“We’re trying to clean the bay, one oyster at a time,” Ms. Fabrizio said.

Being a nonprofit organization, the project relies completely on the help of sponsors and volunteers. BNB Bank, Discovery Land Company, the local solutions management company SMI and the Patchogue-based Knapp-Swezey Foundation all supported this enterprise. Most of their volunteers are students from nearby schools. Mr. Terchunian said that the project team spends the winter months every year visiting schools to recruit volunteers for the following summer oyster farming season.

Mr. Terchunian mentioned how, to their surprise, they have begun to see young oysters naturally growing in the bay, seeded from their oyster beds.

“Up until we started seeding oyster beds in 2013, there were no oysters in Moriches Bay. They’ve been fished out decades ago,” Mr. Terchunian said, adding that oysters like freshwater seeps, the area where freshwater from land seeps into the bay and mixes with the salt water. “That’s where oysters will naturally propagate. There’s at least two to three different areas along the barrier island shoreline along Moriches Bay.”

Next summer, Mr. Terchunian said that the Moriches Bay Project wants to build oyster reefs in Moriches Bay, an area in Brookhaven and in Quantuck Bay. He said that they first need to get regulatory approval from town boards.

The high number of oysters may be removing some of the nitrogen, but the overall concentration of nitrogen in the bay is only increasing.

The project’s Moriches Bay Observation System, the only real time 24/7 nitrogen sensor on the South Shore, recorded nitrate nitrogen levels in the bay at 99.8 parts per million on November 19. Exactly one year ago, nitrate nitrogen levels were recorded at 31 ppm.

For context, drinking water is considered unsafe to drink if it contains more than 10 ppm of nitrate nitrogen, according to EPA regulations.

This increasing nitrogen level could be caused by fertilizers, waste water, atmospheric deposition and animal wastes, which can then stimulate excess growth of algae and harm marine life, according to the EPA National Aquatic Resource Surveys.

The Moriches Bay Project is also working to restore the eelgrass beds in the bay, which Mr. Terchunian said has declined dramatically within the last couple decades. Harvesting and transplanting eelgrass is not as easy as growing oysters—Mr. Terchunian said it is “very labor intensive and requires a high skill set”—so they have been collaborating with researchers to find the most efficient method for eelgrass restoration.

“Eelgrass and oysters are keystone species … you can’t have the rest of the ecosystem without them,” he said.

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Great project, but we have to get to the problem of where the pollution is coming from...
By knitter (1537), Southampton on Nov 27, 18 10:58 AM
See the advanced septic system article posted today.
By johnj (918), Westhampton on Nov 27, 18 12:00 PM
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