The Marine Program Outreach Coordinator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension talks about this weekend’s Great Peconic Race, the Back to the Bays initiative to restore and build habitats for marine life, and water quality on the East End.
By Kathryn G. Menu
This weekend’s Great Peconic Race on Saturday, September 10 — during which there will be a benefit barbecue — supports the efforts of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program and its shellfish restoration. Can you tell us a little about what the race entails?
Paddlers will circumnavigate Shelter Island on a 19-mile course on various paddle crafts; there is also a shorter 9-mile course and a recreational 3-mile option. After the race, paddlers will be helping us seed 10,000 clams into the bay. Proceeds from race registrations will directly support this work, and allow for us to conduct additional shellfish and habitat restoration projects in the Shelter Island/Sag Harbor region. For the non-paddlers, there is still an opportunity to join the fun. We will be having a BBQ on Wades Beach where you can watch the racers cross the finish line while enjoying a large variety of food offerings by Schmidt’s and beverages from Montauk and Greenport Brewing Companies. There will be beach activities including habitat restoration workshops, a fish printing tee-shirt station, SUP yoga demos and more.
CCE Marine Program CCE has operated since 1985, and is focused on water quality initiatives, research, education and habitat improvement/restoration projects. The Back to the Bays Initiative is one of the efforts of CCE.. How has it grown or expanded in the last decade?
We officially launched the Back to the Bays Initiative in celebration of CCE Marine Program’s 30th anniversary last year, but it’s an idea I’ve had for a long time. Through this initiative, we essentially package many of the projects myself and my colleagues have been working on for years (shellfish enhancement, eelgrass restoration, etc.) into stewardship-based activities and events that allow for community involvement in our science-based work. It creates a pathway for people to participate in, and support, the important projects we are conducting for our waters. People can give back to the bays by donating time, resources and financial support. The partnership we’ve developed with the paddle sport community is a great example of how we can pull together to fundraise and increase the scale of the work being done by CCE Marine Program, while involving the public in stewardship projects.
CCE is looking to expand habitat restoration for scallops and other shellfish in Shelter Island and Sag Harbor waters. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Thanks to a generous private donation and proceeds from Main Beach Surf + Sport’s Paddle for the Bays race off Havens Beach last spring, we were able to get started on our Back to the Bays stewardship projects. We were also able to involve the paddle community in the free planting of 5,000 bay scallops at a new spawner sanctuary site in the area back in May. This will help boost the local bay scallop population. We then conducted test plantings of eelgrass to determine what areas off Sag Harbor may be able to support a new meadow. One site proved itself to be a great candidate and we’ll be planting 2,500 shoots of eelgrass here this fall, with some of the work being done at the race on Saturday.
Obviously, not only is your professional life dedicated to this work, but you are also a mom raising children on the South Fork. What initially drew you to your work, and how has your own personal mission surrounding water quality evolved since your started at Cornell?
I grew up the daughter of a baymen and spent a lot of my youth on my dad’s clam boat. This instilled a love and appreciation of our marine environment that I still carry with me today. I always knew I wanted to pursue a career focused on what I’m passionate about and I must say working for CCE Marine Program has been amazing. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can make a difference, and I want to inspire others to want to be part of it. I make it a priority to ensure my daughter Elsie understands how important our environment is. My husband and I spend a lot of time at the beach, on the water, and in the water, and she’s right there with us exploring, enjoying, and hopefully developing her own love for the water.
For the average resident, how can they help fight a declining eco-system and increasingly poor water quality?
Awareness is the first step towards realizing change … Simple things like being aware that what you put on your lawn eventually ends up in our waters, is a good place to start. Getting involved with our restoration projects, and supporting our work by coming out to events like the Great Peconic Race is a fun easy way to show you care as
For more information, visit greatpeconicrace.com.