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Coastal Steward

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.