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Coastal Steward

Volunteers from the Coastal Steward Long Island group getting ready at Cedar Beach to set sail and plant oysters in Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Not only are they delicious, but they’re good for the environment, too. 

On Sunday Oct. 18, several volunteers from Coastal Steward Long Island who work at the Mount Sinai Marine Environmental Stewardship Center planted 400,000 oysters in and around the harbor.

Oysters are one of the best natural ways filter local waters. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Fifteen years ago, there were no oysters in Port Jefferson Harbor,” said Bruce Folz, CSLI director of shellfish restoration. “When my kids were little, we were walking down the beach and they were picking up oyster shells, but there were no live ones. … We want to change that.”

According to Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Long Island used to be a saturated with shellfish. 

“There was a time 50 years ago when you could just walk down the beach and grab oysters or clams,” he said. 

But because of poachers and pollution, clams and oysters that once covered the sands have become difficult to find.

Every year, in a collaborative effort with local groups and the town, shellfish are grown in netted cages with the expectation to plant them back in the local waters, north to south, including Mount Sinai Harbor and Bellport Bay. Back in August, the town announced the supply of 50,000 seed clams for planting in the South Shore. Earlier this year, the town finished several upgrades to the Mount Sinai mariculture facility, thanks to a $400,000 state grant.

“We make sure the seeds are distributed to other groups to plant and spread them out,” Romaine said. 

CSLI originally got started restoring the shellfish population back in 2000, and now it has a steady group of volunteers who come to the mariculture facility in Mount Sinai Harbor every two weeks, May through October, to maintain both the facilities and the seed beds. As they have done every year, volunteers come down to the harbor early in the morning to head out by boat and drop the oysters into the water with hopes they survive and thrive. 

“We put them in cages and bags, or as I like to call them ‘condos,’ then every couple of weeks we check up on them,” Folz said. “They have an 80-to-90% survival rate in the cages, but only 10 or 15 while in nature.” 

By planting the shellfish, they won’t only be harvested for commercial use, but will help clean up the water as a natural ocean vacuum. The shellfish program is becoming ever more important for water quality, as locations as close as Stony Brook Harbor have experienced hypoxia, or a lack of oxygen in water, just this year, according to the annual Long Island Water Quality Impairments report. Shellfish such as oysters and clams are great for filtering out organic particulates.

The Town of Brookhaven has seeded over 1 million oysters since it started its program. Photo by Julianne Mosher

“Adult oysters can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day,” Folz said. “We’ve talked to a couple of baymen and I’ve gotten the feeling it’s become a viable product — it’s increasing the oyster count.”

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R) said that organizations like the Coastal Steward have played an important role in bringing shellfish back to local waters. 

“The Town of Brookhaven has beautiful and bountiful waterways that are so much a part our economy, community and the environment,” she said. “We must do everything we can to take good care of these natural assets, so generations to come will benefit by our actions to preserve and protect them.”

Since the planting program began, well more than one million shellfish have been planted in Port Jefferson and Mount Sinai harbors, helping the ecosystem and cleaning things up.

“We’re not giving up, we believe in our environment and that’s crucial,” Romaine said

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Volunteers help the Coastal Steward clean up Centennial Beach Oct. 10. Photo by Kyle Barr

At regular beach cleanups hosted at both Centennial Beach and the Port Jeff side of Mount Sinai Harbor over the past two weeks, volunteers picked up over 4,000 pounds of trash and debris. 

The Coastal Steward, based in Mount Sinai, has for years hosted beach cleanups in Port Jefferson and many other parts of Long Island. Pat Kuchicki, who heads up the Steward’s beach cleanup efforts, said the 1347 pounds from Centennial and 2,720 pounds from the edge of Mount Sinai harbor is actually a moderate number compared to some previous years.

Normally, the Coastal Steward hosts their beach cleanups after winter, to get all the debris washed up by fall and winter storms, but because of the pandemic the dates were pushed back. 

The reason why there were less this year than last could be because of COVID-19, less people were going down to the beach or taking out their boats with friends and family, but Kuchicki said she thinks it may be more people are simply better aware of the need to keep beaches clean. In the intervening months, more people could have been stopping to pick up trash.

“I know definitely in Port Jeff the people are very good up there wanting to keep the beach clean,” she said.

Kuchicki said they saw a total of 60 volunteers come down to both cleanups. Both young and old, locals and people from miles away came down to lend a hand. Bill Negra, a volunteer with the Coastal Steward, said there were even a number of young women from a Hofstra University sorority who came down for one of the early October cleanups. 

The Steward doesn’t just pick up loose straws and bottle caps, but anything not natural, including treated lumber or other construction debris. 

The Village of Port Jefferson unanimously voted at its Sept. 8 meeting to pay the Coastal Steward $1,000 each for the costs of the beach cleanups at both the Port Jeff side of Mount Sinai harbor and at Centennial Beach.

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra, president Denis Mellett and treasurer Mark Campo at Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Peggy Spellman Hoey

Coastal Steward Long Island has a three-pronged plan of attack in an unending, dirty battle — the one all environmentalists have been fighting — to keep local beaches and waters clean for years now. And it seems to be working. 

Coastal Steward board members and local divers plunge into Port Jefferson Harbor Aug. 18. Photo from Coastal Steward

What started out as loosely organized beach cleanups led by a local resident has spread to incorporate aquaculture conservation, restoring shellfish to Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson harbors, and marine education teaching youngsters about marine life and water quality. Its education programs include harbor seining and marsh exploration, shellfish hatchery tours and plankton microbiology, in which students use microscopes to identify plankton. 

Through its fundraising efforts, the group is also able to subsidize busing costs for schools that cannot fund field trips to the center.

The organization’s long-standing partnership with the Town of Brookhaven at its beach and marina complex on Long Island Sound in Mount Sinai allows for its educational programs to be run out of the Mount Sinai Marine Environmental Stewardship Center. In the complex’s maricultural center, the oyster seeds are grown for eventual release into the harbor.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) called the organization a good partner and a nice complement to the town and its work to restore water quality.

“They are all about water quality,” she said. “Their message is the right one and their heart is in the right place.”

In addition to its beach-cleaning projects, about four years ago, the group began leading underwater cleanups, recruiting local divers to volunteer their services to remove debris such as garbage, mechanical parts, and household items like furniture that has ended up on the water’s bottom.

The addition of educational programs and underwater cleanups evolved from the group’s efforts to clean beaches after organizers realized something had to be done to address the trash coming in with the tide.

“There is no end to beach cleanups, but if we educate before it gets in the water, we keep it out of the water in the first place,” said Denis Mellett, a dive instructor who serves as the president of Coastal Steward LI.

Ashly Carabetta, the organization’s executive director, said the group has also seen success with one of its newer programs, the Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, where youngsters get to listen to guest speakers, including scientists and educators such as aquanaut Fabien Cousteau, a documentary filmmaker and the grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau. 

Long Island Coastal Steward volunteer Bill Negra checks oysters cages in Mount Sinai Harbor. Photo by Kyle Barr

“It’s just a great opportunity for these kids to get to be surrounded by people in the field [of marine science] and talk amongst themselves,” she said.

Another part of the program includes a segment where participants break off into groups and develop a project for which they apply for grant money and then work over the next year to complete the project. The projects can be anything from creating a children’s book about water quality to devising a plan to limit single-plastic use in schools.

Giving the group a final plug, Bonner noted it is always looking for volunteers, and it’s a well-rounded organization with which anyone of any age can become involved.

“This is a nice way to be involved and you are really making a difference — beach cleaning and water quality,” she said.

Carabetta noted the importance of a beach cleanup is that anyone can do it, but the organization does have other roles to fill.

“We are looking for volunteers, part-time educators to try to expand our reach in many ways,” she said.

Steward to host biggest cleanup of the year Sept. 21

Coastal Steward board members and local divers plunge into Port Jefferson Harbor Aug. 18. Photo from Coastal Steward

There are monsters off the coast of the North Shore, but not the kind with purple tentacles and razor teeth. Some are man made.

The Coastal Steward boat is regularly used in beach cleanups. Photo from Coastal Steward

The nonprofit Coastal Steward Long Island has been hosting underwater cleanups in Port Jefferson Harbor for the past three years. This is amongst its other activities being the steward of the Town of Brookhaven’s Mariculture Facility in Mount Sinai while hosting beach cleanup brigades and educational seminars for adults and kids alike. But the nonprofit’s volunteers have been looking for a deeper clean beyond the shore.

Ashly Carabetta, executive director for Coastal Steward, said the garbage one sees when relaxing on the sandy shore is only a small part of the debris that sits in the ocean.

“This is our effort to go beyond the regular beach cleanup and extend it to underwater,” she said. “The trash that you see on the shoreline goes far beyond what is there.” 

Deeper into the water many of the heavier objects have no chance to wash up on shore. Denis Mellett, president of the Coastal Steward’s board, is a local diver and dive instructor. He has assisted with diving cleanups all around Long Island, but said they chose Port Jefferson Harbor for their close working connection with the village. Other municipalities on Long Island, he said, can be hesitant to allow these cleanups when they could be liable for the divers well-being. 

The board president said most people rarely think about what garbage has sunk to the bottom of the water. The rest of the garbage is often located closer to the shore underwater.

“The only stuff you often see or think about is stuff that floats,” Mellett said. “Typically, closer to shore is where you find the vast bulk of that debris.”

Coastal Steward board members and local divers plunge into Port Jefferson Harbor Aug. 18. Photo from Coastal Steward

The first cleanup took place in 2017, but last year the group had to cancel due to inclement weather. During the last underwater cleanup, which took place Aug. 18, 27 divers splashed underwater, going down to about 20 feet below the surface. Many were Coastal Steward board members.  

“Divers tend to be very conscious of the environment, because it’s where we spend our time,” he said. “It’s like hikers. Hikers tend to take care of the woods, divers tend to take care of the ocean.”

In past underwater dives, the group has come up with umbrellas and engine parts, and they have even found soda and milk bottles from all the way back to the 1940s. One memorable piece of debris was a 10-foot rolled-up rug that Carabetta found at the bottom of Port Jefferson Harbor. At the time, some feared what they might find rolled up in such a large rug, but they were relieved to find nothing inside.

Much of the debris, like small boats or parts of engines, actually become part of the marine life’s habitat, so they don’t remove it. However, they also find parts such as vehicle batteries, which can release toxic materials into the water. Objects like those are especially what the Coastal Steward looks for in these underwater cleanups.

“Typically, it’s down there until it’s buried in sand or silt, or a diver goes in there and brings it up,” Mellett said.

Despite what may come out of the harbor during these dives, Mellett said the true purpose is to gather interest in doing their regular beach cleanups and as part of their educational services, especially trying to get people to be more conscious of what and where they toss away.

“You can clean the beach every single day but as the tide goes in and out it brings in more garbage,” he said. “The only way you can make a significant dent is if you can keep the garbage out of the water in the first place.”

The Coastal Steward is hosting its largest beach cleanup of the year Sept. 21 at the far side Pirate’s Cove in Port Jefferson. The organization will be using its boat to take people up to that area, and if they gather enough volunteers, they will take people further up, across to the western side of McAllister Park. Volunteers will meet at Anchorage Road South in Belle Terre village at 8:30 a.m. before marshaling out. People can visit www.coastalsteward.org or call 631-941-6528 for more information.

Centennial Park beach is located on the Port Jefferson Harbor. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Join local environmental group Coastal Steward for a beach cleanup on Saturday, May 28, and help keep the North Shore beautiful.

Volunteers are meeting from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Centennial Park in downtown Port Jefferson. Snacks, water, gloves and garbage bags will be provided, but volunteers are encouraged to bring their own sunscreen and tick protection.

It is recommended that participants wear clothes and shoes that they would not mind getting wet or dirty.

Centennial Park is located behind the Port Jefferson Village Center, off East Broadway and next to the Port Jefferson Yacht Club.

Volunteers should register at www.coastalsteward.org by clicking on the release form, under the beach cleanup program, filling it out and bringing it to the event. Community service credit is available.

For more information, contact Pat at 631-334-6824.