Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Seeding Our Waters

October 1, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

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In the fall, many land-based agricultural growing operations prepare for harvest.  On the water, the timing is right for a special aquaculture-based planting operation.  Hundreds of thousands of baby clams and oysters will soon be sent off from their hatchery at Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center in Southold (SCMELC), to seed local waters in efforts to enhance and restore natural shellfish populations.

seeding our waters 2Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County (CCE) has been helping to replenish and enhance local shellfish stocks for almost three decades.  Out of their publicly-supported aquaculture facility at Cedar Beach in Southold millions of oysters, clams, and scallops are cultivated for resource enhancement, research, and restoration.  The facility, built in 1976 as the Marine Technology Center of Suffolk County Community College, is owned by Suffolk County and has been operated by CCE since 1991. In this time CCE’s Marine Program has built and maintained a large-scale shellfish aquaculture operation.

seeding our waters 3Gregg Rivara, CCE’s aquaculture specialist and facility manager at SCMELC, oversees the aquaculture operations and plays a role in the production of millions of shellfish through the years.  According to Rivara, “The production process begins in January at which time adult shellfish are brought into the hatchery and are conditioned to spawn.  The conditioning process involves raising the water temperature slowly and providing the adults plenty of food in the form of phytoplankton (tiny single-celled plants that are also grown on site at the hatchery).

“Once conditioned, it’s time for the adults to spawn, which occurs as a result of thermal shock when they are placed in cool water that is then heated rapidly,” Rivara explains.  “This causes the eggs and sperm to be released and shortly thereafter brought together to be fertilized.  The resulting larvae are kept in 100-gallon fiberglass tanks for a week or two until they have ‘set’ and become juveniles.”

The next stop for these baby shellfish is a nursery system where they will be cared for by CCE staff until they grow large enough to be planted — typically one-half to two inches in size. The shellfish produced at the SCMELC aquaculture facility are then free planted into our local waters from September through November by dispersing them by hand over the side of a boat.  Nature takes over from there as these young shellfish go on to help filter our water, spawn in their natural environment, and become part of the marine species food chain.

seeding our waters 4CCE’s shellfish presence in the waters of Southold, Southampton, and Shelter Island is made possible with the support of these three municipalities, as well as the general support of the overall aquaculture operation by Suffolk County. The towns and village work with CCE to develop plans which lay out the goals of quantity, species type, and locations of planting, which are then followed by Rivara and CCE’s aquaculture team when it comes time to free plant the shellfish seed into creeks and embayments.  Rivara notes that, “The goal with our shellfish program is not to outdo Mother Nature, but rather to enhance natural production. Shellfish have a boom-bust life history — some years there is great production and in others not so much. We are helping to smooth out the ups and downs by planting hatchery-reared shellfish.” Furthermore, he says, “shellfish, whether natural or farmed, create habitat, filter the water in which they live, create jobs and provide low-cost protein to town residents.”

Officials of Southampton, Southold, and Shelter Island, as well as Suffolk County’s Executive Steve Bellone and the County Legislature, recognize the important role CCE plays in helping to enhance our marine resources, and in turn are helping uphold Long Island’s rich maritime heritage.  CCE’s work is not limited to the East End — there are similar efforts underway with several towns in western Suffolk.

CCE offers opportunities to get involved with shellfish aquaculture, including learning how to grow your own shellfish through the SPAT Program and “adopting” a clam, oyster, or scallop to be reared at CCE’s facility and eventually released during seeding.  Tours of the hatchery facility at Suffolk County Marine Environmental Learning Center in Southold are also available.  If you would like to learn more about these efforts and how you can get involved, or would like to schedule a tour of the hatchery, please get in touch with me at 631-461-5294 or kp237@cornell.edu.  Also, for some great updates on the work of CCE’s Aquaculture Team, follow  “Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program” on Facebook!

By Kimberly Barbour

Kimberly Barbour is Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Program’s Habitat Restoration Outreach Specialist. She offers special thanks to Gregg Rivara for his contributions to this story, and to CCE’s entire aquaculture program for the hard work they do year round.  

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