An ambitious grassroots effort to restore marine ecology in local waterways is gaining traction.
The City Island Oyster Project held its first fundraiser at the Harlem Yacht Club on Friday, May 17 to encourage a long-term effort to re-populate oyster beds in local waterways, stretching from the county line with Pelham into Eastchester Bay around City Island and Throggs Neck.
Volunteers are currently in the process of collecting used oyster shells and placing them on pallets for curing purposes before they are deposited back into waterways, said Maria Caruso, a member of the City Island Drift, a group sponsoring the effort.
The volunteers have placed 32 gallon bins to collect used oyster shells in seven City Island seafood eateries: The Lobster House, Seafood City, Seashore Restaurant, Sammy‘s Shrimp Box, Tony’s Pier, Johnny’s Reef and the Harlem Yacht Club, said Caruso.
The process requires the shells be cured for a year so that bacteria can die off before they are placed back into the water, she said.
Oyster larvae, already present in the local waterways, would attach to the recycled shells and reach maturity.
An adult oyster can clean up to 50 gallons of seawater a day, improving ecology and possibly bring back wildlife that has disappeared from local waterways, said Caruso.
“The purpose is to have the oysters clean the water and become the basis to bring a multitude of other marine species back into Eastchester Bay, creating an ecologically bio-diverse corridor,” said Caruso.
As part of the longer-range vision, the City Island Drift’s volunteers foresee eco-tourism to keep building on the island’s nautical history while making full use of natural resources, said Lois Wagh, a member of the Drift.
“While we are doing all of this, we are bringing the community together,” said Caruso. “Those who attended the fundraiser and volunteered didn’t socialize before and now they are working together towards a common goal.”
The group is relying on the expertise of a City Island biologist, Paul Mankiewicz, and Mike Carew, of the island’s Captain Mike’s Diving, to determine locations to place the oysters in the water for maximum success, said Caruso.
Carew told the Bronx Times that they are considering places like Cuban Ledge (which was formerly an oyster reef) located in Eastchester Bay between Country Club and City Island, and locations off the Chimney Sweeps Islands, High Island and Hart Island as possible locations for a ‘chain’ of installations.
“When we are diving, we are looking for good areas for the oysters we are collecting,” said Carew, adding “There would be multiple places to put these shells.”
Carew, a former NYPD diver, said that he has found that oysters are growing near the jetty at Orchard Beach naturally, indicating that the water quality in that area is already improving.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and Councilman Mark Gjonaj attended the May 17 event.
Benedetto said he will allocate the group a $2,000 grant for the project and is sponsoring state legislation that would provide tax credits to restaurants based on every pound of oyster shells they contribute to this and similar efforts.