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Southampton, Oyster Bay to share Nature Conservancy's oyster restoration funding

 Baby oysters from an Oyster Bay hatchery.
Joseph D'Alessandro
Baby oysters from an Oyster Bay hatchery.

The Nature Conservancy will provide $6.3 million to oyster reef restoration programs around the country

The Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program will grant $140,000 to restore oyster beds in Southampton and Oyster Bay on Long Island.

“Those reefs were really powerful engines that did a lot of work for us, as coastal communities and human society. The food that oysters provide is actually a fairly minor component of that,” said Boze Hancock, a senior marine restoration scientist with SOAR.

The latest wave of funds is part of the SOAR’s second phase. The program began in 2021 to buy oysters off of farmers during the pandemic-related lockdown, keeping the farmers in business while restaurants were closed.

According to the Nature Conservancy, the program has already sustained over 450 jobs.

Hancock said the return of the reefs would bring benefits that include purifying water systems, reinforcing shorelines and providing habitats for other marine life. One oyster can filter as much as 50 gallons of water per day, he said.

Looking forward, Hancock said these first steps are one part of a larger ecological fix.

“We know that oyster reefs do a huge amount for us that’s really beneficial. An oyster reef is a benefit. But what we’re really looking for is a near-shore ecosystem that’s functioning properly. And oyster reefs are a part of that system,” Hancock said. “It’s not just one reef.”

Joseph D’Alessandro is a news intern at WSHU for the spring of 2023.