Making an oyster sanctuary

Save the Great South Bay Speaker Series


Save the Great South Bay recently hosted an online speaker series forum for their GSB Oyster Project. Barry Udelson, marine resource specialist, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, led the conversation. Below are tips for making an oyster sanctuary.

Part 1: Site evaluation

It is important to understand how oysters reproduce

According to Michael Doall, associate director of bivalve restoration at Stony Brook University School of Marine Sciences, there are males and females that spawn into the water where fertilization occurs. The first life stage is larva that looks nothing like an oyster, but is a crucial part of the lifecycle. The plankton in the water for two weeks can swim a little but are at the mercy of the currents. Where they spawn might not be where they set. Once they set into an oyster, they are sedentary and attach to something. Oysters don’t move once they’re set. It’s important to pick a good area for a reef.

Planting single-cell oysters and spat on a shell:

Gregg Rivara, aquiculture specialists Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said that by putting larva in a tank at the site or remotely, setting the larva on a shell, you can get 100 oysters or more set on a shell; they aim for 10. Site selection should be closed year-round with good water quality.

Oyster reef and oyster sanctuary

Spat on shell creates a bed rather than a reef in an area chosen because it has good characteristics for growth and retention. A reef is the introduction of artificial structure a foot or 2 feet off the bottom as a habitat with single loose oysters. Loose water is better for spat on shell. Shellfish restoration is more an enhancement or augmentation of existing shellfish purposes. Towns on Long Island have municipal hatcheries as part of their budget to produce shellfish for harvest. The protection aspect is missing from that equation. For it to become more sustaining, we need to create sanctuaries.

Goals for the project

Other goals, Doall said, are for education purposes and outreach. Oyster reefs are an intriguing part of nature to connect with the ocean. Oysters are also a good research tool for graduate students. But the ultimate goal is to create a self-sustaining population.

Thomas Schultz, co-founder of Friends of the Bellport Bay, added that the goal of his organization was to improve the quality of the bay. He also mentioned that the community can’t do this themselves and requires a relationship with the town for habitat restoration. Brookhaven Town supervisor Ed Romaine, he said, has been a tremendous partner.

Early distinctions for site selection

The panel recommends that in order to get a self-sustaining reef, stay away from outlets, be near a landing for access, and firm bottom type—the harder the better—you don’t want the reef or bed to seep into the sediment. Pick areas away from the public eye to prevent poaching. Grow out oysters in certified waters that you can wade out into for monitoring and tending, either by boat or in cages under docks. FoBB, for example, has their sanctuary in about 7 feet of water.

The concerns

The biggest issue is raiding the sites for consumption and sales to restaurants. Seagulls and flying birds can get in during low tide and get them and drop them. Oyster drills also prey on shellfish and will get in and eat the oysters.

Getting a permit

Permits aren’t usually granted to individuals, but more often to environmental groups. The first step would be for groups to talk to the town to obtain permits locally, then with the state. The town’s own the underwater lands and are involved in management programs. 

Part 2: Establishing a sanctuary

Part 3: Enhancing and measuring for success, will be covered in following issues.


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