Partnering on cleaner waters

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Patchogue resident Ethan Doutney, manager of operations for the Gino Macchio Foundation, and assistant Steven Rafalko, were stationed at the Bellport Marina well before 9 a.m. Saturday morning. “This is our modified water taxi, a 383 Stoker,” said Doutney, of the grey vessel crammed with boxes of oysters. “We have 20,000 oysters here we’ll be planting.”

The Gino Macchio Foundation teamed up with Friends of Bellport Bay on their restoration mission; Gregg Rivera, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County aquaculture specialist, was poised to dive to determine the health of oysters planted in Bellport Bay’s shellfish sanctuary. Strapped with 80 pounds of scuba apparatus on his back, he’d be underwater for an hour.

“He monitors the health of oysters twice a year,” said Thomas Schultz, president and co-founder of Friends of Bellport Bay with Katia Read, who is vice president.

They both showed up wearing boating gear; Schultz and Read would go out on a clam boat donated by John Denaro.

Later, Schultz reported the results: “We pulled 38 total oysters from the bay bottom,” he said. “Out of the total, 11 were dead from blue-claw crab predation, and 27 were prospering; this translates to a 71 percent survival rate. It’s not a true scientific study, but it does provide an indicator.” Schultz said the average size of the sample was 99 millimeters or 3.9 inches in size. “Having a loss is expected,” he said. “You expect to see predation. The blue-claw crabs are happy; they eat the oysters and we’re establishing an ecosystem. Shellfish are the building blocks of that.”

Gino Macchio Foundation executive director Ken Daly and his wife, Marguerite, had made the trip to the dock as well.  The nonprofit was started after Gino, who was passionate about helping the oyster industry clean up the Great South Bay, died tragically in 2018 in a motorcycle accident. He’d already created significant devices to help adult and young oysters thrive. The nonprofit is headquartered in Bay Shore and Daly mentioned that their big gala, which would help shellfish restoration as well as people in recovery, was scheduled for Oct. 28 at Captain Bill’s from 6 to 9 p.m.

“We’ve already planted 500,000 oysters,” Daly said. The goal is 1 million by next year. The nonprofit foundation works with Islip Town’s shellfish farm. Last year, they partnered with The Nature Conservancy and The Pew Charitable Trusts, as well as FoBB to plant tens of thousands of overstocked shellfish from shellfish farmers whose businesses were affected by COVID.

The value of these shellfish can’t be overestimated; they filter 50 gallons of water a day.

For those new to Friends of Bellport Bay, the nonprofit had its beginnings when Read partnered with Schultz in 2016 in their quest to clean Bellport Bay’s waters. Read got a permit from the Department of Environmental Conservation and established an oyster garden off her dock, stocking it with spat (baby oysters). Since then, a shellfish sanctuary has been established in Bellport Bay, and Brookhaven Town, which has donated spat regularly, has become an enthusiastic supporter. (FoBB also plants scallops, clams and eelgrass.

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