Members of the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps got a recent lesson in helping to conserve and even restore the environment. Working with experts from Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Meadows Program, cadets from Southold, Mattituck and Greenport spent several hours on Saturday, Oct. 22, weaving eelgrass shoots into burlap planting discs that scuba divers will place in selected restoration sites.
“These newly created marine meadows will serve as important marine habitat for many species of finfish and shellfish,” said Cornell Cooperative Extension outreach specialist Kimberly Barbour.
Eelgrass is critical in the life cycle of many fish and shellfish species, providing food and a natural habitat. In addition, Ms. Barbour said, it helps prevent erosion of shores by absorbing wave action.
But eelgrass meadows have been destroyed by dredging, damage from boats and algae blooms that deny them sunlight, she said. Over the past 70 years, approximately 90 percent of all eelgrass along the Atlantic coast has been destroyed.
“These blooms, if persistent enough, can stress and eventually smother eelgrass beds, leading to decreases in populations,” she said. “Widespread brown tide in the 1980s caused large scale die-offs of eelgrass in our local waters.”
Cornell Cooperative Extension’s restoration project has been ongoing for about two decades, according to Ms. Barbour.
“Many lessons have been learned and successes have been realized during this time,” she said. The Marine Meadows Program is the newest effort and is “envisioned as being a long-term aspect of our restoration endeavors,” she said.
The goal of involving the NJROTC cadets in the project is to teach them about the local environment while contributing to the health of area waters, said the unit’s senior Naval science officer, Major William Grigonis.
The program is funded in part by Suffolk County’s Water Quality Protection and Restoration Program, Maj. Grigonis said. Working with the cadets is part of a larger community outreach to involve North Fork residents with conservation efforts in local waters.