Residents looking to take part in a community experience that benefits the environment should look no further than the Community Oyster Garden program.
This summer, residents of Bayville and Oyster Bay have been growing thousands of oysters as part of the Oyster Bay Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee program. The 12-member committee, which represents 11 local governments, focuses on initiatives to improve and protect local water quality.
This year, the oyster program’s goal is to propagate 200,000 oysters in 50 acres of Oyster Bay Harbor, underwater land the Town of Oyster Bay designated for the preservation, seeding and rehabilitation of shellfish in 2019.
Dave Gugerty, of Bayville, and his family have taken part in the program for the past three years. “This is the most enjoyable environmental project I’ve ever been involved in,” said Gugerty, who was a Bayville village trustee for eight years. “All walks of our community are involved. We have so much fun on Saturdays, chatting with different people who want to make our water cleaner.”
In July, Gugerty took his family boat, and his dog, Sailor, for a ride out to Laurel Hollow to help set the anchors and lay out the lines the oyster cages are attached to.
There are several ways people can get involved in the program, explained Rob Crafa, part-time coordinator of the protection committee’s efforts. In the spring, families can register to maintain a garden themselves. The cost is $175 for two oyster cages, which includes up to 1,000 oysters. Participants raise them and then release them into the bay.
Cages can also be sponsored by donations. The Oyster Bay High School Environmental Club maintains cages sponsored by donors. Registration for cages is closed, but interested community members can still participate by volunteering to clean the cages on weekends.
“Gardeners need to clean the algae from the cages every other weekend,” Crafa said. “People miss cleanings, so we’re always in need of volunteers to come down and help out.”
Coming up with $175 can be a challenge, but many who do have found it worthwhile. “I have to admit, the cost took me back for a second when we first learned about it,” Gugerty said, “but it has been well worth the investment.”
Last year, Bayville Boy Scout Troop 176 cleaned the oyster cages for gardeners. But this year, scouts, too, recognized the benefits of sponsoring their own cages. The troop built cages in May, and its members are eagerly awaiting a launch date.
“This is a great program for our scouts,” Stephen Sylwester, Troop 176’s advancement chairman, said. “The boys are able to meet other community leaders that are doing things outside of scouting.”
And many people show up to help out with the cleanings. “[The scouts] learn about their other efforts, whether they do food drives or other cool social and civic activities,” Sylwester said, noting that it’s a great activity for children to get involved in on a Saturday morning in the summer, far from video games.
Participants learn about marine ecology and conservation. And the gardeners learn to use simple equipment to measure their oysters as they grow.
“A lot of times, other people working the oyster gardens need help,” Sylwester explained. “Our scouts are able to engage with them and help out. It has fostered a nice working relationship between some of our older community members with the kids.”
“This is the single most successful and rewarding program I’ve been involved with,” Crafa said, “and I’ve been doing environmental conservation for over 30 years.”
The success of the program has also helped Crafa conduct outreach on other initiatives to promote the committee’s water conservation efforts. On July 14, Friends of the Bay and the North Shore Land Alliance hosted Long Island Clean Water Vendor Day at Fireman’s Field in Oyster Bay, at which five vendors demonstrated modernized septic systems. Nassau and Suffolk county home-owners have been promised between $10,000 and $20,000 in grants to upgrade their onsite systems, and their replacements can help reduce nitrogen pollution, Crafa said.
In September, the oysters will be large enough to leave their cages, and will be set free. Community members are invited to celebrate at a potluck dinner. And the gardeners will be invited to take a dozen oysters home with them.
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved in the oyster gardening effort.