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Three Harbors Garden Club Takes on Oyster Gardening


September 14, 2021

Community Effort Helps Clean Local Harbors

In the late 1800s, the oyster industry in Oyster Bay, Long Island, NY, was thriving. Unfortunately, years of overfishing and pollution contributed to a sharp decline and by the 1950s, all but destroyed the industry. Since 2018, the Three Harbors Garden Club (THGC) has joined forces with Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Oyster Bay/Cold Spring Harbor Protection Committee, and other community and municipal groups to help clean up the local harbors and improve the water quality with the use of oysters. The program is bringing the community together and enhancing conservation efforts.

Oysters and clams are filter feeders, with each adult oyster capable of filtering up to fifty gallons of water a day. After attending special training sessions, THGC members sponsored a cage holding 1,000 baby oysters (or spats) to nurture over the summer and early fall. They quickly learned that being an oyster gardener required different skills than their usual gardening techniques.

Members signed up for weekly measurement-taking and cleaning sessions to ensure the sea squirts, crabs, and seaweed didn’t block the critical oxygen and water flow through the cages. Halfway through the season, they added another cage to accommodate the growing oysters.

Never to be consumed, these oysters are solely for the ultimate natural replenishment of a thriving oyster population in the harbor. In the fall, they are placed into certified spawning sanctuaries where they continue to thrive. The then-empty cages are cleaned once again and stored until the following year when the new spats arrive. A community Shellabration, held in October, celebrates the end of the oyster gardening season.

As one of the charter oyster gardeners said, “It is a terrific program to be involved in–gardening never ends for us. Even in the waters of Cold Spring Harbor.”


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