oysters in bellport bay

The town and county are going all-out in their support of efforts to restore healthy shellfish populations to the Great South Bay near the Superstorm Sandy breach.

An initial undertaking this summer involved planting seedling oysters near Ridge Island, in a portion of the estuary known as Bellport Bay.

A new project will be giving a boost to clams and scallops in Bellport Bay as well.

Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town are jointly funding the undertaking, which will include planting juvenile shellfish as well as habitat restoration —specifically, eelgrass. 

Eelgrass is critical for scallops, crabs and other fish that use it for food and to hide from predators.

Required Reading: Why is eelgrass important?

“The opening of the new breach after Superstorm Sandy has resulted in improved water quality, and this project seeks to take advantage of these improved conditions since early reports have shown better success with shellfish survival in the areas surrounding the new inlet,” stated Legislator Kate Browning (WF-Shirley).

“All of the species that will be planted contribute to the removal of nitrogen in the bay,” she said, “which is desperately needed to reverse the harmful algal blooms that have plagued the area.”

Suffolk County is chipping in $56,000, a measure that was approved by the county earlier this month through legislation initiated by Browning. 

The town had already committed $72,000 toward the project, officials said.

In total, 250,000 oysters, 1 million juvenile hard clams, 100,000 spawner clams and 70,000 scallop bugs will be planted in Bellport Bay as a result of the town and county partnership, officials said.

In the coming weeks, staffers with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County will be conducting a bay bottom survey to identify the best possible locations to plant eelgrass.

Volunteer organizations, such as Friends of Bellport Bay, also play a large role in such efforts. 

That group is already monitor oysters it planted this summer and will be planting more near Ridge Island, which is just to the north and west of the inlet at Old Inlet, an area of Fire Island that Sandy tore open in October 2012.

Friends of Bellport Bay, which was founded last year, has been purchasing its own oysters and contracting for professional help through Cornell to place them properly.

The group has also been using oyster seed donations from the town’s shellfish hatchery in Mount Sinai.


Photo: Seedling oysters that were deposited in Bellport Bay in July. (Credit: Michael White)