Oysters were on the table when Rob Crafa and Aaren Freeman lunched with Rotary recently. It was the end of the school year for Freeman, an Adelphi assistant professor of environmental biology and he was there to ask Rotary to donate oyster shells from the 2018 Oyster Festival to his Community Oyster Restoration Effort whose mission is to restore Long Island’s oyster reefs to benefit the marine environment, as well as for storm barriers, by recycling shells from restaurants and festivals. Last year Freeman’s students and volunteers harvested a ton of Oyster Festival oyster shells, enough to create a reef.
Crafa, the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee coordinator, (and the Fort Schuyler Maritime Academy waterfront director) was there to share the story of his success with his oyster gardening program in a water pollution project done in the Village of Laurel Hollow. It is to help clean up Cold Spring Harbor waters that over the last few years have been closed to shellfishing due to mainly to dog poop and geese and waterfowl. The geese populate ponds upstream, near St. John’s of Lattingtown Church.
Crafa enlisted 10 families to grow oysters in cages in the area near the Laurel Hollow Village Hall. The results were better than expected. Cornell Extension asked how many oysters planted in the cages died. “Surprisingly, none,” reported Crafa. Instead they all grew over the year from “15 millimeters, the size of a pinkie nail,” to two-and-a-half inches. The project produced about 30,000 oysters: each oyster filters 50 gallons of water a day, which helps improve water quality. “They are Tums for the ocean,” he quipped. The calcium carbonate in their shells are like chalk.
Freeman explained he is using oyster shells as a sub strata to create reefs where the mollusks can be planted to grow and thrive. Reefs create barriers that water rises over creating enough turbulence to bring nutrients and oxygen to the oysters. New York City is working to clean up their harbor with the Billion Oyster Project where they have created nine reefs.
Rotary Oyster Festival Chair James Fuccio said, “You can have half of the shells of the raw oysters we serve at the festival.” Working with the public to keep the shells from the rest of the garbage collected at the event would be another educational hurdle to leap. The shells need about a year to sit and decompose, and other garbage in the mix would cause a problem.
Recently in a Town of Hempstead project, Freeman said, “After four months they were not offensive, and ready to go back into the water.”
As a result of the discussion, Fuccio will be putting together a system to save the shells and the 2018 Oyster Festival, Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 13 and 14, will have a new focus: helping save the bay.