Yes, I am back. After a looooong hiatus, I am finally back to blogging! (no, seriously, hold your applause). I had been pretty busy the last few months with writing, defending and editing my dissertation (John M Carroll Dissertation). But that is all over now! Defense was successful, edits completed, graduate school accepted, and as of August 16th, I am officially a doctor! So I am hoping that now, I can now get back to writing posts more regularly. I am starting a new position, a post-doc with Dr. Chris Finelli at UNC-Wilmington in the MarBEL (Marine Biofluiddynamics and Ecological Lab) lab. This will be a relatively new field for me, so I am looking forward to learning new methods and working with new people. In fact, I am in Wilmington right now and will be officially starting my position next week – so more to come on that.
But I wanted to make a post today talking about something from my recent past – the Shinnecock Restoration Project (ShiRP). I was involved in preliminary research and monitoring for this project the past two summers, so I am very excited about the big news – $3million dollar donation to restore Western Shinnecock Bay – an area degraded by eutrophication and overfishing and hampered with recurrent harmful algal blooms. This confluence of factors, and likely including other factors such as distance from larval source, has led to shellfish populations in the western portion of Shinnecock Bay extremely low. This is problematic, since the lost shellfish – mainly clams and oysters – are filter feeding organisms and thus act as natural filters for the water column. As their numbers dwindled, water condition worsened, eelgrass cover decreased, harmful algal blooms increased, which affected recruitment of new bivalves to the western bay – a term called a feedback loop. However, restoration has worked to successfully bring back scallop populations to the Peconics – another New York estuary – so there is a lot of confidence that restoration will work in Shinnecock Bay as well.
I am very excited for my colleagues back at SoMAS for this project. The general plan is to combat the decreasing water quality by significantly boosting shellfish populations – on the order of millions – in spawner sanctuaries within the western bay. The idea is that these bivalves will serve two purposes. First, they will increase the filtration capacity of the western bay, removing plankton and thus nitrogen, from the water column. Second, these high density aggregations will have enhanced fertilization success and act as new larval sources, pumping millions more baby shellfish into the bay. Last fall, I was able to be on a trip that planted ~500,000 seed clams into the bay. I was also involved in investigating the growth of seagrass transplants from sites with varying water quality at different sites along the water quality gradient in Shinnecock Bay to identify the most hardy population that could withstand poor water quality in the western bay. This information will be used for the second phase of the project, which is eelgrass restoration.
This past summer, in addition to continuing the spat monitoring which I started in 2011, I also did a hard clam suction survey to give us a baseline idea of clam densities in the western portion of the bay. This was fun – suction sampling for hard clams also turned up all manner of organisms – mussels, razor clams, soft-shell clams, lots of crabs and even some moon snails. But most importantly, we were counting and measuring hard clams, a target fishery species and also a target species for this restoration project.
Plus, I also got to learn a little bit of GIS to make maps of distributions, like this one: (I had to remove the map for fear clammers might go to the sites)
The ultimate goal is to restore the water quality, enhance bivalve and eelgrass populations, and enhance local fisheries. I am very excited for this project, and I hope that when I return to Long Island in the future, this academic-public-private partnership will be a highly successful restoration effort. Most importantly, Shinnecock Bay might be perfectly suited for restoring water quality via shellfish enhancement – it is a relatively shallow estuary system (<2m deep except for in the navigation channel which itself is only ~3m deep). Thus, this shallow water body could effectively be filtered by high densities of the shellfish which this project aims to restore. Unlike other much deeper estuaries where the shellfish might not be capable of such an impact, Shinnecock Bay is best suited for this endeavor. Good luck to my friends and colleagues involved with ShiRP!