With its succulent body and unmistakably briny taste, the oyster has been a part of Long Island’s heritage for centuries. But the complex nature of its texture and taste pale in comparison to oysters’ ecological contributions to Long Island’s waterways and estuaries. Like natural purification systems, oysters help keep our waters clean, provide a balanced ecosystem and safe waters to swim in. But with the rise of nitrogen levels due to groundwater seepage, these fragile ecosystems are being placed under an ever-increasing threat of contamination.
The Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, the Peconic Land Trust, partnered with National Grid and the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County to combat this threat with a campaign that funds researchers to sample and source nitrogen levels from groundwater seepage into the Peconic Estuary. Pinpointing areas of groundwater seepage will render more effective and efficient conservation efforts, allowing removal of nitrogen at the source, rather than before it seeps into the bay.
This research is being funded by a premium attached to the sale of cooperative’s own Peconic Pearl. Known for its briny sweetness, Peconic Pearl is grown in Peconic Land Trust’s hatchery in Southold. Each characteristically cup-shaped bivalve is then sold and distributed to restaurants from Southold’s A Lure to Manhattan’s iconic Grand Central Oyster Bar.
Last year, the National Grid agreed to match the funds raised by the members of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative through Peconic Land Trust, in order to follow through with this important research initiative.
After a hard and freezing winter, researchers will be able to begin sampling nitrogen sources by April. Rivara projects that findings will be ready to present by August.
With this research, Karen Rivara, overseer of Peconic Land Trust’s Shellfisher Preserve and founder of the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, hopes to increase awareness of the symbiotic relationship between land and sea.
“Maintaining that relationship and that balance is going to be tricky,” Rivara says. “We’re doing what we can to help sustain it.”
Rivara’s interest in marine science began at an early age while watching the deep-sea adventures of Jacques Cousteau. She then went on to become a research technician at the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton. During her time there, Rivara had her first experience cultivating shellfish. From there, she took her passion for aquaculture into her own hands and began growing oysters in the basement of her home in Shirley, New York.
In 2000, Rivara founded the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative with partner Jim Markow. In 2003, the cooperative joined forces with Peconic Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving open space. Rivara began using the hatchery, gifted to the trust by the Plock Family in 1996. Using the existing indoor hatcheries, the cooperative was able to continue North Fork’s once flourishing oyster industry.
After a hard and freezing winter, researchers will be able to begin sampling nitrogen sources by April. Rivara projects that findings will be ready to present by August. This collaboration between Peconic Land Trust, the Noank Aquaculture Cooperative, National Grid and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County will help ensure a bright and prosperous future for the oyster industry on Long Island and the Peconic Estuary alike.