The New York State Department of State today announced the completion of the Town of Brookhaven’s project to restore critical eelgrass habitat in the South Shore Estuary Reserve (SSER). This project was funded with a $49,975 grant through the Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Local Assistance Grants Program to implement the Long Island SSER Comprehensive Management Plan.
“Restoration of marine habitat is vital to the health of the South Shore Estuary Reserve ecosystem,” Acting Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said. “Seagrass provides critical marine habitat supporting the Estuary’s fisheries, provides habitat diversity and resiliency from coastal storms, and helps to fight the effects from climate change. The Department of State is pleased to work with the Town of Brookhaven to make this project possible.”
The Town of Brookhaven worked with students from Stony Brook University and partnered with experts from Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to increase eelgrass habitat by planting 12,500 eelgrass shoots thus increasing the amount of this vital species in Bellport and Moriches Bay. The efforts by the Town of Brookhaven are a continuation of their work to restore and protect critical habitat in the Long Island South Shore Estuary and the project is a model for bringing together municipal, academic and not-for-profit partners to undertake future seagrass restoration in the SSER.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine said, “The Town of Brookhaven has over 150 miles of coastline, providing favorable conditions for eel grass to thrive. Our eelgrass restoration projects in Bellport Bay and Moriches Bay have yielded great results and we look forward to continuing the program and expanding it to more locations. Our bays and estuaries are vital to the ecology of Brookhaven Town and I will do whatever I can to help restore and protect our environmental assets.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension Suffolk County Marine Program Director Chris Pickerell said, “We were very pleased to take part in this collaborative effort to restore an important keystone species to the South Shore Estuary. After this initial success, we are looking forward to continued plantings in the coming years. Through proactive efforts like this, we hope to increase estuarine productivity and stability for the benefit of both wildlife and local residents.”
Stony Brook University's Center for Clean Water Technology Director Professor Chris Gobler said, “Directly addressing high-priority community, economic and environmental needs is vital for the protection of Long Island's coastal ecosystems and completion of this project is a major step forward. Restoring this critical eelgrass habitat will help improve water quality, boost coastal resiliency, and strengthen the estuary's ecological health for years to come.”
Eelgrass (Zostera marina) is a type of underwater marine plant found throughout the Northeast Atlantic coast and is the most abundant seagrass species found in the SSER. Eelgrass meadows provide a wide range of benefits to the SSER including nutrient cycling, sediment stability, wave energy reduction, carbon sequestration, sources of food, and nursery functions which support commercial fisheries, tourism revenues, atmospheric carbon reduction, coastline integrity and coastal property values. Additionally, eelgrass plays an important role in helping mitigate global climate change by absorbing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in underwater sediments. One acre of eelgrass is capable of absorbing and storing up to 740 pounds of carbon per year, which is equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by a vehicle driving 3,860 miles per year.
The SSER has lost 8,949 acres -about 45%- of its eelgrass since 2002. This loss within the SSER highlights the need for active planning, protection, restoration, and management to ensure persistence of this important species in the estuary. Current threats to eelgrass include changes to the environment from activities such as hardening shorelines, climate change causing increasing water temperatures and rising sea levels, poor water quality, and physical disturbances such as pollution from coastal development and recreational activities like boating or fishing.
The DOS SSER Local Assistance Grant Program provides funding to municipalities for projects that implement the SSER Comprehensive Management Plan. Funding for this grant program is made available from the NYS Environmental Protection Fund.
The South Shore Estuary Reserve features vast stretches of sandy beaches, numerous marinas, and abundant parks and nature preserves that provide opportunities to swim, boat, fish, hike, observe wildlife, and relax. The surrounding area is home to 1.5 million people, the SSER is an anchor for Long Island’s tourism, seafood, and recreation industries. The New York Department of State administers and provides funding for the implementation of the Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Comprehensive Management Plan in cooperation with the 23-member Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Council, which is comprised of State and local governments, non-profit and academic organizations, and other stakeholders.
The SSER, administered by the Department of State, was established in 1993 through the Long Island South Shore Estuary Reserve Act which called for the protection and prudent management of Long Island’s South Shore bays and upland areas draining to them. Funding for the SSER is made available through the State’s Environmental Protection Fund. The Act also created the SSER Council, which is a group of representatives from the towns, villages, counties, City of Long Beach, as well as, recreation, business, academic, environmental and citizen interests. For more information on the SSER, please click here.