The Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program (ShiRP) aims to reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms and increase shellfish populations in Shinnecock Bay. Ultimately, the goal is to restore the nutrient balance and enrich the diversity of plants and animals living in the bay. By performing a baseline survey of the current state of the bay, and then working to replenish shellfish and eelgrass beds, the ShiRP team hopes to return Shinnecock Bay to a thriving estuarine environment.
The ShiRP program is initially designed around a five year timeline. The program will be implemented in phases that build on the results of the previous phase, making the restoration an integrative and adaptive process over time.
We will restock multiple species of shellfish (clams, oysters) in the Shinnecock Bay estuary using a variety of methods (e.g., wild plantings, caged plantings, saturation spawning). Once sufficient numbers have been established, filtration by these shellfish will improve water quality and clarity in Shinnecock Bay.
We will encourage further growth of existing eelgrass beds. In addition to planting shoots of eelgrass, we will focus on releasing seeds and genotyping eelgrass to ensure that specific strains of eelgrass are properly matched with prevailing conditions in Shinnecock Bay. The expansion of eelgrass beds will be facilitated by successfully meeting Objective 1 above.
We will stock, remove, and restock stands of seaweeds. These aquatic plants have been shown to absorb large amounts of nutrients. By removing nutrients, these plants can inhibit harmful algal blooms, including red tide and brown tide. We will deploy seaweeds in regions of high nutrient loads and subsequently harvest them, thereby minimizing the impacts of nutrient loading on Shinnecock Bay.
A cornerstone of any restoration effort is a robust monitoring plan. ShiRP will utilize multiple approaches to carefully assess the natural benthic (bottom of the bay) and pelagic (water above the bottom) conditions of Shinnecock Bay, as well as the status of key restoration regions such as oyster reefs and hard clam spawner sanctuaries. Surveys of water quality, benthic animals, and fish populations will be compiled via traditional boat-based measurements, as well as information from buoys and probes with data logging and wireless transmission. Fish and macroinvertebrates will be surveyed throughout the restoration program using trawls and/or longlines.
We will communicate with key groups and involve them in the restoration program by meeting with local municipal officials and environmental groups, developing informational videos, and maintaining a website and other social media outlets. We will also develop a cadre of citizen-scientists who will participate in restoration and outreach activities.
During the summers of 2010, 2011, and 2012, ShiRP engaged in a series of pilot studies to inform future restoration efforts. This information has proven extremely valuable and has positioned the program for success in its future restoration efforts. For example, our results demonstrated that both juvenile and adult stage oysters were more resistant to the effects of high temperature and brown tide than other shellfish. This information helps to determine the objectives of the restoration efforts in Shinnecock Bay.
Dr. Chris Gobler placing some of the 1,000,000 seed clams planted in the bay in 2011
Clear water from eastern Shinnecock Bay compared to water during a brown tide bloom in western Shinnecock Bay on the same day