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Long Island, New York

Shellfish Get Their Start


Helping Hands

A recent survey of the Great South Bay revealed the presence of more than 250 million juvenile clams, believed to be the offspring of three million Conservancy-stocked adult clams! Is the bay making a comeback?

Shellfish Get Their Start

See how baby clams are being raised by high school students as part of an Island-wide shellfish restoration program

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Twenty seven high school students, proud of their accomplishments, were ready for the commencement ceremony to begin. They worked hard and the results of their labors were clear. With sparkle in their eyes, they began to walk single file, proudly holding their clams. Clams?!

This was a graduation ceremony of a different kind. And this moment belonged to the bivalves. It was their day to leave their “boarding schools” in a protected harbor in Smithtown to get a start in the wide world of Great South Bay.

A Gifted Group

These clams could be considered “gifted” students – in fact, they are, thanks to a generous donation from the National Grid Foundation, who is underwriting the cost of this special shellfish recovery effort. In this program, baby clams are being raised by high school students as part of an Island-wide shellfish restoration program. With the help of Western Suffolk Board of Educational Services (BOCES) and the Town of Smithtown, the students construct clam nursery rafts (7ft x 12ft) to grow the itty bitty bivalves where they will be safe from predators – since baby clams make a good meal for hungry crabs, whelk and humans alike.

While the clams grow, the students develop an understanding of marine ecology, the anatomy and physiology of hard-shelled clams and the science behind shellfish restoration. They also gain an appreciation of why clams and other shellfish are so important for water quality and to Long Island’s heritage.

Once the clams are large enough in size, the clams are taken from the nursery rafts by the high school students and they are handed over to Nature Conservancy scientists who will stock them in the Conservancy’s underwater preserve in Great South Bay. The clams make their journey from one water body to another – from Long Island’s North Shore to its South Shore – and become part of something bigger.

The Big Picture

During the 1970s, there were enough hard clams to filter 40 percent of the Great South Bay every day. Today, only one percent of the Great South Bay is filtered daily. What’s more, the decline in clams has had a negative effect on the health of the bay at-large – making it more vulnerable to brown tide, pollution and other threats. Restored and properly managed shellfish populations can renew once-thriving fisheries and recreational opportunities that are part of Long Island’s rich maritime heritage. 

Since 2004, The Nature Conservancy has been restocking its 13,400-acre underwater preserve in the Great South Bay with hard clams in the hopes that they will reproduce, and ultimately restore this depleted water body to its former glory. To date, more than three and a half million adult clams have been put back in the Bay.

It Takes a Town ... and a Village

The town of Smithtown, a partner in this effort, has also been restocking Stony Brook Harbor with clams and oysters for over 20 years. The town uses a variety of approaches to protect juvenile shellfish as they grow to a suitable size for seeding in the harbor. 

Everyone has a stake in seeing our shellfish populations rebound, including our generous supporters in the shellfish restoration effort: Suffolk County, New York State, NOAA Community- Based Restoration Program, Brookhaven, Islip and Babylon Townships, Knapp/Swezey Foundation, Lowe's Companies, Inc., National Grid Foundation, Pall Corporation, Morris and Alma Schapiro Fund, the Joseph and Sylvia Slifka Foundation, the Wildlife Forever Fund and of course, the high school students who can say with pride that they contributed – one clam at a time – to restoring this important resource for Long Island.

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