Sag Harbor Area Back to the Bays Stewardship Site: Success in 2016 & More Work Planned For 2017

In early 2016, Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program was selected as the beneficiary of proceeds from the Great Peconic Race, the annual paddle race around Shelter Island.  It was decided that funds would be directed to establishment of one of our “Back to the Bays Stewardship Sites”, areas where we conduct community supported shellfish and habitat restoration work.  Initial underwriting support of this site was provided by a private donor to kick start the creation of a new Stewardship Site in the Sag Harbor/Shelter Island area. This specifically chosen site combines numerous water quality improvement-based projects designed to increase the number of filter feeding shellfish in these waters, increase the amount of essential eelgrass habitat availability in the area, and engage the public in these stewardship based projects.

eh-bbmaprevised-2017Map of the Back to the Bays Stewardship Site in the Sag Harbor/Shelter Island Area.

Bay Scallop Spawner Sanctuary: One major goal of this project was to establish a bay scallop spawner sanctuary. After the proposed plan was approved by NYSDEC, it was time to get to work! On May 18, 2016, with the help of several members of the paddling community, 5,000 adult bay scallops were free planted off of Havens Beach. The increase in concentration of scallops in this area allowed for a higher likelihood of reproductive success, which is a key factor in achieving the goal of restoration.

gpr-photo-2-paddleboarders-planting-scallopsMembers of the local paddling community free planting bay scallops.

Eelgrass Habitat Restoration: In addition to the work being done with shellfish, eelgrass habitat was another targeted area for restoration. Over 2,000 eelgrass shoots were assembled into planting units with the assistance of participants of the Race for the Bays and Great Peconic Race. Next, they were planted by divers at 4 locations. The “Shelter Island Shoal” site proved to be the most suitable location, and due to the success shown at this particular site, we hope to increase the scale of planting here in 2017.

gpr-photo-3-eelgrassEelgrass discs assembled by participants of the Race for the Bays and the Great Peconic Race were planted by CCE divers.

Hard Clam Seeding: The resources made available for the hard clam seeding component of the project allowed for 10,000 seed clams to be produced in our shellfish hatchery in Southold.  These juvenile seed clams were brought to the Great Peconic Race on September 10th and broadcast into the waters off of Wades Beach after the race.

gpr-photo-4-clamsJuvenile seed clams moments before being broadcast into the water!

Oyster Bed Development: In September-October 2016, site scoutings took place to determine the optimal site for oyster bed development. On November 2, 2016 eight shell bags, with approximately 2,000 oysters each were put out near the breakwater. Oyster shells and live oysters create habitat, and will spawn and provide an appropriate surface for larvae to set on. Larvae will either set near the parents, on the breakwater rocks, or they could wind up miles away. Either way the oyster population enhancement made possible through this aspect of the project is significant, and we hope to build upon the number of shell bags at this new oyster bed site next year!

 Oyster “spat on shell”; Oyster shell bags being placed near the Sag Harbor
breakwater to provide a surface for larvae to set on.

Looking Into 2017:

We are very proud of all that we have accomplished in 2016, thanks to the partnership of the Great Peconic Race, our private donors, the paddling community, and all other supporters. We are committed to continuing our shellfish & habitat restoration work at this site in 2017 and beyond, and thanks to the generosity of the paddling community, this will be possible!  We’re so pleased to announce that at a recent meeting at the American Hotel, the organizers of the Great Peconic Race presented our Outreach Manager Kim Barbour with a check for $25,000 to keep this great work going in 2017!

gpr-featured-photoWe thank the Great Peconic Race for supporting us!  

Special thanks to Billy Baldwin and the entire Great Peconic Race Committee, Corcoran Realty, The American Hotel,  Main Beach Surf + Sport, and the entire paddling community for their generosity and support of Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program’s Back to the Bays Initiative!

The Final Report for this Project can be viewed here:



The Seaweed Aquaculture Project

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A new type of aquaculture is coming to the Peconic Bays, joining the growing shellfish aquaculture industry. Globally, seaweed aquaculture is a $6 billion dollar industry,  dominated by Asian and Indo-Pacific countries for the last century, but in recent years, western countries are joining the movement. Seaweeds are not only a nutritious food (think sushi, salads) but are also used as additives in foods and products we use everyday.  Carrageenan, agar and alginate produced from seaweeds are used as binding, thickening and gelling agents in ice cream, baby food and formula, yogurt, salad dressings, basically most creamy foods we eat, as well as non-edible products we use everyday such as toothpaste and shaving cream.  Other important industries that rely on seaweed additives are the pharmaceutical industry (petri dish medium, capsules, tablets), the cosmetic industry (lipstick, lotion) the textile industry, and most recently for the production of biofuel and fertilizer.

This growing demand has tremendous economic potential that officials in our region are ready to tap into, but the bonus is that it can also benefit the environment. This emerging “green industry” can improve water quality by extracting nitrogen and carbon from the water, all while producing a high-demand, renewable product. The first step is to test the feasibility of growing seaweeds in local waters in a sustainable and profitable way without interfering with other marine industries. This is where we come in.

The “Peconic Estuary Seaweed Aquaculture Feasibility Study” (aka The Seaweed Project) aims to evaluate the potential of this new industry in Suffolk County waters within the Peconic Estuary.  Under the guidance of Dr. Charles Yarish at the University of Connecticut, the region’s leading expert on seaweed culture, Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) scientists will grow sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) at several sites throughout the Peconic Estuary. Sugar kelp is a brown macroalgae that is a cold water species; it thrives in our region during the cooler months of the year (November – May) where it can grow to several meters long typically at depths of 3-5 meters, and like most macroalgae it requires a hard substrate to attach to. Kelp is typically farmed using a series of long lines running parallel to each other and set to a specific depth below the surface, but in order to identify ideal depths for grow out in our region, single, vertical “dropper lines” were designed. CCE is already familiar with  long line aquaculture systems; we designed and currently maintain the “Bay Scallop Spawner Sanctuary” in Orient Harbor that has helped rebound the bay scallop industry in the Peconics.

Just this week, Dr. Yarish’s lab provided CCE the “seed strings”,  which is basically “baby kelp” that has set on monofilament line. The lab at UCONN produced these seed strings extracting gametes from reproductive kelp collected by CCE divers this fall. The seed strings were spooled on PVC pipe which were encased in a tube filled with seawater until deployment. Deployment day was on December 13th, 2016; upon arriving at each site,  the strings were carefully wrapped around thick pot line that was previously attached to a typical mooring set-up (mushroom anchor, chain, line and mooring buoy). As the kelp grows, it’s holdfasts will wrap around the thicker line. The sites will be monitored throughout the winter as necessary, and come spring, each line will be harvested, kelp biomass at each interval will be measured and tissues will be sampled for C, P and N content. This will help generate an estimate of nutrient bioextraction that occurred throughout the winter at each site. The results as well as techniques and methodology for the Seaweed Project will be refined, adapted and implemented by CCE. Check back for updates on this exciting project!

This project is fully or partially funded by the County of Suffolk

Helping shorebirds, one shelter at a time

Though we focus largely on marine elements such as shellfish and water quality here at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Program, there are other species that are an integral part of our Long Island coastal marine habitat: shorebirds! On Friday, November 11, 2016, CCE’s Marine Program held its first “Shorebird Shelter-Building Workshop” at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center. This workshop was funded through a Cornell Lab of Ornithology Mini-Grant. The goal of this program was to introduce participants to different species of beach nesting and migratory shorebirds on Long Island and to discuss the importance of these birds and how we can help conserve them. This workshop consisted of a presentation on bird identification, bird behavior, and conservation issues. Followed by a beach hike and search for migratory shorebirds, it concluded with a tern shelter-building activity.

The volunteers for this workshop were Girl Scout Troops 288 and 3787, a group who are conservation-minded and who have volunteered for past habitat restoration workshops. During the presentation portion of this workshop the volunteers learned about local shorebirds including Piping Plovers, Sanderlings, American Oystercatchers, and Ruddy Turnstones. Two of the species highlighted were the Least and Common Tern. Following the presentation the group walked the shoreline at Cedar Beach to look for migratory shorebirds. We discussed gull identification as well, and unique adaptations and behaviors of shorebirds.


A beautiful day for a beach walk!

After the beach walk we returned to the marine center to build shorebird shelters. These shelters will be placed out on local beaches before tern nesting season to provide young tern chicks with shelter and protection from predators. The completion of these shelters marks only the beginning of this project. Next summer we will be monitoring the shelters and observing tern chicks as a citizen science project. We will be recording data on shelter usage to determine the effectiveness of the shelters and if they could potentially help local breeding shorebirds. This will allow the public the opportunity to learn about shorebirds and the importance of their conservation. Many thanks to Girl Scout Troops 288 and 3787 for their help!


Our volunteers putting their carpentry skills to good use.


A visit to the Marine Center is not complete without checking out the Touch Tank Room!

BuDS of the Bay

Summer field work is in full swing at the  Shinnecock Indian Reservation with CHRP (Coastal Habitat Restoration Project). CCE and the Shinnecock Nation have been busy planting both beach grass (Ammophila breviligulata) and marsh grass (Spartina alterniflora) all spring and summer, but over a couple weeks in July, we switched gears to focus on collecting eelgrass seed while they were ripe and ready to release in Shinnecock Bay. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is our local seagrass species, which is a true flowering plant that grows completely submerged in estuarine waters, forming critical marine habitat for our finfish and shellfish.

In this region, eelgrass reproductive shoots finish seed development during the summer months of June through August, and the rate of seed development depends largely on water temperatures and therefore proximity to cool ocean water. This means that eelgrass flowering shoots that are growing in creeks and enclosed embayments are ripe earlier than eelgrass growing closer to inlets or other more exposed water bodies that maintain cooler temperatures. We collect eelgrass flowers when the maximum number of seeds on the flower shoot are ripe and about to release. This requires consistent monitoring for several weeks leading up to collection day, as seed maturity varies from year to year along with the the local climate.

Eelgrass seed collected this year in Shinnecock Bay was used for seed restoration along the Shinnecock Reservation shoreline. We utilized a method of seed restoration known as Buoy Deployed Seeding (BuDs) devised here at CCE by Chris Pickerell, which has since been used around the world by restoration scientists. This method was developed in order to allow people to restore eelgrass by seed without having to bring the collected reproductive shoots back to a facility with a flowing saltwater tank; with this method, flower shoots can be collected and deployed at the restoration site on the same day. It also allows for citizens to help in the net filling process, which helps the restoration team increase their productivity and increases citizen stewardship.

The collected flowering shoots are stuffed into aquaculture pearl nets which are sewn shut, attached to a buoy/block system, and allowed to swing with the tides and waves, dropping seeds naturally over the course of 2-3 weeks until the flower shoots are spent. Several buoy systems can be arranged into a grid to cover a desired restoration area and nets can be filled with a set amount of flowers to allow for a known initial seed planting density. 100 of these buoy/block/net systems were deployed in mid-July along the Shinnecock Nation’s shoreline, with each set up containing an average of approximately 350 viable seeds. We are in the process of retrieving the remaining buoy systems this week. The area will be monitored in early spring to scout for new seedlings emerging, and results will determine the success of this effort and future eelgrass restoration efforts at this site.

Marine Meadows Coastal Plant Propagation Workshops

Every Tuesday, now through August 30th, we are hosting Marine Meadows Coastal Plant Growing Workshops from 4:00-6:00 PM in two locations in Suffolk County. Workshops will be held in Yaphank at the Suffolk County Farm and Education Center, as well as in Southold at the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center. Learn about the habitat restoration work we do with marsh grass and help us care for plants that will be used in our restoration work!

We use healthy, strong plants that are germinated by local seed sources to create more healthy plants to be planted at our restoration sites. Volunteers split the plants in half or sometimes in quarters and then re-pot each section with fresh soil, which allows these plants to expand their roots and continue growing. This is known as propagation.


Two newly re-potted plants.

Why do we care about these plants so much? Salt marshes, also known as tidal wetlands, provide a buffer between our developed shorelines and our creeks and bays, helping to filter pollutants and safeguard our waters. These essential zones also provide critical habitat to shorebirds, fish, and shellfish alike. The dominant species comprising the tidal zone of salt marshes, Spartina alterniflora, is vulnerable to changes in elevation caused by sea level rise, and other threats. Unfortunately these critical ecosystems are declining in our region and therefore restoration projects are crucial to ensure these habitats continue to provide for us and our wildlife for years to come.


Plants are held in a nursery and cared for until they are ready to be transported for planting at a designated habitat restoration site.

These volunteer sessions are free and open to the public. Register for the Southold location sessions on EventBrite HERE! For more information regarding workshops in the Southold location, contact Rachel Neville at

Register for the Yahpank sessions at HERE!  For information about workshops in Yahpank, contact Liz Ahearn at

Stay tuned for more volunteer opportunities this Fall, when we will be needing help collecting Spartina seed,  weaving eelgrass, and germinating more Spartina seed for next spring!

Eelgrass, Paddle Boards, and A Unique Marine Meadows Workshop

Eelgrass (Zostera marina)plays a critical role in providing habitat and protection for various marine species, prevents erosion caused by storm events, and assists in controlling water turbidity (cloudiness).  Over the past 75 years, local populations of eelgrass have declined drastically as the result of several factors. To learn more about these factors, visit here (link to  Due to the decline of eelgrass in local waters, there are not enough naturally occurring propagules, seeds or adult shoots, to facilitate natural recolonization.  This lack of seeds or shoots, referred to as “propagule limitation,” is what CCE’s eelgrass restoration program is trying to overcome.


Although CCE staff  have been involved with eelgrass restoration efforts for the last 30 years, in 2011, we launched a program aimed at engaging the public with this effort.  The Marine Meadows Program invites volunteers to learn about the importance of eelgrass and its biology, while also enabling people to participate in a unique hands-on restoration project. At Marine Meadows “workshops,” participants learn how to weave eelgrass shoots (collected beforehand by CCE SCUBA divers) into biodegradable burlap planting discs or “tortillas.”  The program is a great outreach tool, because people of all ages can help with the land-based portion of the process, from school aged children to adults!


On May 7, 2016, the third annual “Race for the Bays ”, took place in Sag Harbor. The event was hosted by Main Beach Surf + Sport, who generously donated proceeds from the event to support our work.


Race starting line up at Havens Beach!


Paddlers braving the harsh cold and wind.


After the completion of the race, we held a unique Marine Meadows workshop. At this particular workshop, the volunteers making “tortillas” were paddlers who had just come ashore after finishing the race!


“Tortillas” being assembled by paddler volunteers after the race


Paddlers gained knowledge about eelgrass and the Marine Meadows Program while assembling tortillas.


Once the eelgrass “tortillas” are assembled, CCE staff transport them to a specific restoration site where they are planted by divers.  The newly planted eelgrass turns into a “marine meadow,” which will serve as habitat for fish, prevent erosion, and limit the presence of sediments.


CCE diver “splashing”.


CCE diver ready for planting!


Stacks of assembled discs being handed to divers for planting.


Down they go!


We would like to thank all of our volunteers involved with this Marine Meadows workshop.  This was all made possible thanks to the dedication to the environment demonstrated by the paddling community.  We’d specifically like to recognize Lars Svanberg and his team from Main Beach Surf + Sport, East Hampton Trustee Rick Drew, the Sag Harbor Village Board and Harbor Committee, and the Thomas Kempner Foundation for their support and generosity.  Through these types of events, with the support of the local community, we are able to continue our meaningful work in restoring eelgrass meadows. If you would like to get involved with the Marine Meadows Program or have any questions, visit here (link to  If you would like to help us expand our efforts, check out our Good Circle Campaign (provide link to )  to learn how you can make a difference to the health our bays. 

Back to the Bays 5K + Open House 2016

On Saturday, May 14th 2016 we proudly held our 2nd annual  Back to the Bays 5K at Cedar Beach in Southold.  At 9am, runners took off at Cedar Beach County Park and headed around the beautiful Bayview area of Southold, ending back at Cedar Beach where it began. Results and awards can be found HERE.

Following the race, participants and members of the general public were invited to explore the Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center for an Open House and Family Fun Day from 10am-2pm. Activities included tours of the Shellfish Hatcheries and Touch Tank Room, Coastal Plant Greenhouse and Water Quality Lab. CCE’s researchers and educators were on hand to answer questions about their research and restoration projects including the Bay Scallop Restoration Project, Fisheries Program, and Habitat Restoration Program. Sneak-peaks of upcoming Youth Education programming including Art + Science Integration and Summer Camp Programs were given, which included free crafts for kids. Local artist Cindy Pease Roe demonstrated her “Upsculpt” Project that gets people involved with using marine debris to create and sculpt beautiful works of art. Throughout it all, WEHM had a live broadcast right outside by the Welcome Tent!

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Proceeds will directly support the marine and coastal habitat restoration, shellfish enhancement, and youth education programming carried out by CCE’s Back to the Bays Initiative.

Shinnecock Indian Nation’s CHRP (Coastal Habitat Restoration Project) Part 1

Following Superstorm Sandy, the waterfront along the Shinnecock Indian Nation Reservation in Southampton, NY was greatly eroded and it suffered from substantial habitat loss. With no coastal plants left to provide any buffer from storm activity, the shorefront was at great risk of even more erosion and potential damage to homes, not to mention the lack of coastal plants to provide habitat to fish and wildlife in the area. The Department of the Interior’s Sandy Relief Grant Funding was awarded to the Shinnecock’s through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Habitat Restoration Program has a partnered with the Shinnecock Indian Nation to provide assistance and expertise in the re-vegetation and enhancement of this shoreline with several species of coastal habitat forming plants including eelgrass Zostera marina (underwater), marsh grass Spartina alterniflora (intertidal) and beach grass Ammophilia breviligulata (upland/dunes).  There will also be an oyster (Crassostrea virginica) reef installed offshore to further protect the shoreline and provide habitat.

Pre-beach nourishment photos Fall 2015.

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This multifaceted project would require some serious cooperation and effort. The first step was to relocate any existing species that would otherwise be smothered by the beach nourishment that would take place in the upcoming months. Shellfish including soft shell clams Mya arenaria and fragments of marsh grass Spartina alterniflora were collected and replanted nearby or brought back to CCE’s marine facility in Southold for grow-out and holding. Preliminary elevations were recorded and estimates of were the movement of a tremendous amount of sand to replenish the shoreline and increase the elevation in order for the plantings to be at the appropriate elevation to establish.

Scheduled maintenance dredging of Shinnecock Inlet was performed in December 2015, with arrangements made to move the dredge material from the inlet to the Shinnecock reservation’s western shoreline (along Shinnecock Bay) for the replenishment. In the next post, we will show you the effort it took to get all of the sand in place!

Funding for the Shinnecock Indian Nation’s Coastal Restoration project is provided by the Department of the Interior through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.CHRP offers many opportunities for involvement and volunteering.  You can help us reach our restoration goals by attending one of our workshops. Programming schedule is available at:




Winter flounder (Pseudopleuronectes americanus) in a Fishers Island eelgrass meadow

Winter flounder in an eelgrass meadow in Long Island Sound. Photo Credit: Chris Pickerell-CCE

Happy new year! Here at Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program, we are excited to get our new year rolling with some fresh ideas to stay connected, which includes launching this new blog. We wanted a way to connect with people on a day-to-day basis that went beyond simple social media announcements to include more details on our ongoing field activities and programs, like a journal, or field notes. So here it is!