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