Could one woman’s passion for improving water quality cause the waters of Shelter Island to become home to oyster reefs? Kate Rossi-Snook hopes so.
Ms Rossi-Snook brought representatives from Cornell Cooperative Extension to a City Council business session last week to explain the value of reefs not only in restoring the oyster population, but also in providing habitat for other species marines.
Ms. Rossi-Snook is a member of the school board, where she was involved in decisions regarding the installation of a new septic system.
Cornell Cooperative Marine Program Outreach Manager Kimberly Barbour and Marine Program Aquaculture Specialist Gregg Rivara participated in a program to provide a clean environment for fish, poultry and plants.
What the proponents want is an opportunity to start a pilot program in the waters surrounding the Dickerson Reserve, a location they believe would be relatively safe for placement of shells that provide protected habitat for oyster growth. . They mentioned other possible sites – the waters off Volunteer Park, First Causeway and Burns Road, but none seemed as viable as Dickerson, they said.
Bayman Tom Field said islanders who make their living on the water are not against the city’s creation of oyster reefs, and the issue has been discussed at baymen’s meetings. There are some concerns, but overall the band thinks it’s a good idea. Mr. Field has mentioned the concept to supervisors in the last three administrations.
The Baymen’s greatest concern is access to the bottom of the city bay and ensuring that the lands at the bottom of the city remain open and clear only to the residents of Shelter Island.
In the past, the baymen considered placing a reef at the head of the port of Coelces, “west of the stone wall”, where natural sets have been found in the past. Mr. Field suggested this place during the working session.
The reefs created would not be permanent structures, Rivara said. The larvae, placed on shells provided by restaurants, settled and developed until September. Sylvester Manor officials said they would provide shells for the program, Mr Rivara said.
Representatives from the Cornell Co-op said they will be bringing in island volunteers to act as stewards, helping place the shells as part of the Spat program, created to encourage community members to become environmental stewards by helping to restore seashells to the waters. Spats are tiny shellfish that settle on a shell.
The spat program would train volunteers to seed the shells with larvae and protect them as they grow. Cornell Cooperative offers workshops and provides volunteers with shellfish seeds and materials to grow shell gardens, either on their own waterfront or in a community spat garden.
“Conceptually, we’re all for it,” supervisor Gerry Siller said. He noted that there was $10,000 in the budget for shell restoration.
At the same time, the use of a site like the Dickerson Reservation raises questions about whether land purchased with Community Preservation Fund money can be used for this purpose. This is something that needs more exploration.