2012-11-29 / Front Page

Baykeeper: Oyster program to expand despite storm damage

Staff Writer

The NY/NJ Baykeeper aquaculture facility in Atlantic Highlands sustained significant damage during superstorm Sandy. 
PHOTO COURTESY OF BAYKEEPER The NY/NJ Baykeeper aquaculture facility in Atlantic Highlands sustained significant damage during superstorm Sandy. PHOTO COURTESY OF BAYKEEPER KEYPORT — The expansion of the NY/NJ Baykeeper oyster restoration program will move forward despite damage sustained during superstorm Sandy, officials with the Baykeeper said last week.

Meredith Comi, director of the oyster restoration program, said that the Baykeeper’s aquaculture facility in Atlantic Highlands sustained thousands of dollars in damage during the storm.

She said damage to the facility will not affect the expansion of the oyster program at Naval Weapons Station Earle, set for the spring of 2013.

“We probably won’t start setting the oysters for phase two until May or June, so we have a lot of time,” Comi said. “I am confident that we should have everything up and running and we should be right on schedule.”

According to Debbie Mans, executive director of Baykeeper, the aquaculture facility, located at Moby’s Lobster Deck in Highlands, is where young oysters, or larvae, are put into a tank and attach themselves to shells. They are given time to grow and then are moved to the nets off the pier in Leonardo, she said.

“It’s a controlled area where you can get your oysters to a good start before you put them out to the reefs,” said Mans.

Comi said that the aquaculture facility sustained significant damage to equipment, plumbing and electrical systems following the Oct. 29 superstorm.

One of three tanks used to store the oysters was cracked at the bottom and will cost approximately $3,000 to repair, she said.

Comi estimated that another $5,000 would be used to repair the electrical system damaged when a 2- to 4-foot surge washed over Sandy Hook and hit Moby’s.

She added that the entire plumbing system must be replaced because pipes broke during the storm.

Other damage included the Moby’s deck and some of the Baykeeper oyster cages that had been in the water.

“The few oyster cages in the water got smashed as well, so we probably lost some adults that we were holding there but not many,” she said.

As of Nov. 19, it was not known whether any of the oysters maturing at Earle had survived the storm but Mans said that only the test nets were at the base.

“We got a lot of the data that we needed from the research experiments and we left the nets in place to just collect more information, so it’s unclear if those are still hanging on the pier,” she said.

The test nets were a part of the Baykeeper’s oyster restoration project, which began in 2011, to determine whether oysters could survive in the Raritan Bay.

After surviving the winter, officials from the Baykeeper and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced that the project would expand.

“We did the research project to find out if the oysters liked being there and they did. So the next step would be to build a reef,” Mans said.

“We have our permits in to the DEP for expanding but we haven’t started it yet.”

The Baykeeper will test three support structures to determine which one is best to withstand storm conditions in the bay.

Damage to the facility at Moby’s is expected to be repaired over the winter and should be completed by May or June, in time for the oysters to be set for the reef structures at Earle, Comi said.

In addition to repairing damage, Mans said the Baykeeper is raising awareness about damage to the entire Bayshore area as well as oil spills and raw sewage discharge following the storm that caused contamination in local waterways.

“We are focusing our efforts to get those stopped and cleaned up and not have them happen again, and to help the Bayshore communities rebuild,” she said.

Mans added that discussions about rebuilding need to focus on safety and public access.

“People lost their homes and businesses and we want to be cognizant of that, and at the same time think about how to rebuild and whether to put people in harm’s way again and how we figure that out,” she said.

“A lot of money is going to be coming into the state through federal programming, hopefully, and we need to strategically figure out where we are spending that money. As we bring in that money, we have to make sure that the waterfront is open to everyone.”

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