The Ross Lower School sustainability goal this year is to help promote action-oriented stewardship of our local waters and the restoration of our shellfish populations. They are currently planning a project to support the Conscience Point Shellfish Hatchery. On November 6, the group’s Executive Director, Josh Belury, visited the school to share information about the important role oysters play in reducing nitrate levels in the water and what we can do to help the cause.
The Hatchery is an ideal partner for the school’s sustainability efforts. It was established in 2013 as a community-wide project to expand the East End’s network of local shellfish restoration initiatives. Each month, from March to July, the Hatchery will spawn a million spat (baby oysters) for distribution within Southampton Town waters. It also will have algal growing systems in its facility. Students from local schools have been volunteering at the Hatchery to help with key programs and collect specimens for spawning.
The assembly in the MPR was entertaining, informative and interactive. Josh brought along dozens of oysters that were passed around to the students as well as a fish tank with a few oysters so the students could see firsthand how quickly they clean the water. Each adult oyster filters and cleans up to 50 gallons of water per day, so they are a critical to the health and ecology of our bays and estuaries.
Josh began by asking if the students recalled the fish die-off in the Peconic River last May (the current third grade was actually on a class trip and witnessed the troubling scene firsthand). He then explained that the cause was the high levels of nitrates in the waters that deplete the oxygen. To show how this situation develops, Josh asked the students to assist with a demonstration. They sprinkled a smelly fertilizer over a large farm diorama, and then poured clean water over it to simulate rain. The run-off water, now murky and dirty, was drained into a fish tank. It was a powerful moment that helped bring home to the students how we are harming our groundwater.
One student asked how they could help prevent this situation. Josh said one of the most important things is to help raise awareness. He also encouraged everyone to continue to visit with groups like his who are heading up the restoration projects. “It’s important that they understand that their efforts are appreciated and making a difference.”
Students also learned interesting facts about oyster behavior. For example, they can change their sex to maintain a balance of males and females in their community, another feature that makes them valuable to the water restoration process.
The Lower School students are currently creating beautiful watercolor paintings of oysters that will be available to purchase at the Thanksgiving lunch on November 19. The proceeds will benefit the Conscience Point Hatchery.