State funds to go toward building reef at Long Beach High School


As part of an effort to facilitate conservation projects, state officials announced plans to fund the construction of a reef in Long Beach High School’s research pond, among other plans.

Last month, the Town of Hempstead received a $200,000 grant from the Department of State for various projects along the South Shore, State Department spokeswoman Mercedes Padilla said.

The funds aim to improve the condition of the South Shore Estuary Reserve — state-protected land and habitats that stretch about 75 miles from New York City to Southampton — including improving water quality and adding protective living resources.

Town conservation biologist Tara Schneider-Moran said $28,000 would primarily be used to develop a program to collect used oyster shells from local restaurants to build a reef in the school’s research pond located at 322 Lagoon Drive West.

“Most of the reefs in this area have been completely decimated,” Schneider-Moran said. “Everything that we’re doing is trying to restore those oyster reefs in the bays.”

Employees from the town’s Department of Conservation and Waterways would partner with Adelphi University to create relationships with local restaurants that would donate their used shells, Schneider-Moran said.

The shells are a difficult resource to find, she said, but play an important role in building a reef.

“We take these old shells and we put them in mesh bags, and then we put them in tanks with the oyster larvae, and eventually the larvae will come and settle on the old shells, and we use that as a base to develop a reef,” Schneider-Moran said.

Long Beach High School science teacher Cody Onufrock said he’s been working with students since the spring to experiment with how the shells adapt to the high school research pond.

“I have research students that are monitoring the oysters, checking mortality and measuring growth,” Onufrock said. “On Earth Day, we had 20 to 30 students out there bagging a whole delivery full of shells, putting them in nylon bags that hold them in place.”

The project mimics New York City’s Billion Oyster Project, which aims to rebuild reefs in the New York Harbor. Onufrock said the plan is to expand the Long Beach project from 10 bags of shells — which it currently holds — to 100.

“Oyster restoration is a big deal all along this coast — they’re a keystone organism,” Onufrock said. “The reality is that they used to be here and they’re not here — we ate them all. We dumped a lot of sewage in and it wasn’t good for them.”

He added that the main reason why building a reef with used oyster shells is important is because it creates a habitat and attracts other sea life.

“[The reefs] are extremely productive, super important for ecology of the bay and they’re disappearing — they’re shrinking,” Onufrock said. “They attract a wide variety of species, like a coral reef. They’re habitat creators, and they play a role in the food chain. The other day, we pulled out a reef bag and there was an American eel in there.”

The reefs would also provide protective measures to surrounding neighborhoods.

“You can put them in places where you have erosion and it could help dissipate the turbidity from wave action and boat traffic to prevent erosion of marshes and other shorelines,” Schneider-Moran said.

“If you have a reef, the reef takes the wave impact and absorbs the energy, lessening the wave impact on the island,” Onufrock said. “Just like a barrier island protects Long Island from storm surge, the reef protects the marsh islands from the wave action.”

The work under the grants is expected to start early next year, Schneider-Moran said.

The Town of Hempstead is among six other municipalities benefiting from the Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Local Assistance Grants, including Nassau County, the towns of Brookhaven and Islip and the villages of Freeport, Patchogue and Rockville Centre. A total of $668,385 was distributed among them.

“This funding will help to protect the valuable natural and economic resources of the South Shore Estuary by providing valuable funding to Reserve communities for implementation of priority projects,” Secretary of State Rossana Rosado, chair of the Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Council, said in a statement.

“The funding opens opportunities for new research in our bays,” Schneider-Moran said.