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:



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.