Eelgrass is an essential component of the Great South Bay’s ecosystem. Over the past decades it has been decimated due in part to Harmful Algal Blooms triggered by nitrogen pollution. Native Long Islander, Robert Vasiluth, has created a new methodology for restoring eelgrass and is implementing his approach in the Great South Bay off Fire Island’s Barrett Beach.
The Krazy Big Idea
How did it start? After being impacted by the events of 09/11, Vasiluth dedicated himself to projects that help protect the environment as his way of recognizing the importance of every day life. His commitment lead to a volunteer gig with the local non-profit Save The Sound at which he planted spartina grass to help restore wetlands. This inspired him to think beyond wetlands at other restorative efforts including eelgrass.
Eelgrass “is the foundation in the shallow sea,” notes Vasiluth. “It’s a nursery ground for juvenile fish. It’s where scallops can thrive. Eelgrass produces oxygen. It slows down erosion. It’s a natural buffer. It neutralizes acidification. It absorbs carbon.” But “95 percent of eelgrass in New York waters is gone,” he said. – Rob Vasiluth
Restoration efforts to this point had been relatively unsuccessful with seeds being simply scattered in the water with the hopes that they would take hold and germinate. Vasiluth thought there must be a better way. For months, he experimented with various methodologies, eventually coming up with the idea to glue eelgrass seeds to clam shells. His train of thought was that the clams with the seeds attached would bury themselves in the sea bottom and the seeds would germinate more heartily. He experimented with the idea at the Cornell Cooperative laboratory located in Southhold with great success and finally settled on using Cyanoacrylate – aka Krazy Glue™.
The germination rate of gluing eelgrass seeds to clams – five to 10 per clam – to produce eelgrass has turned out to be “phenomenal,” said Vasiluth. eelgrass seeds, he explains, “are very similar to caraway seeds on the everything bagel.” – Robert Vasiluth
Restoration Sites Around Long Island
Vasiluth’s restoration efforts have been implemented in the waters of the Long Island Sound near Stony Brook, in Sterling Harbor off Greenport, in Shinnecock Bay, and most recently in the Great South Bay off Fire Island’s Barrett Beach. He worked with marine scientist Carl LoBue, director of New York Ocean Programs for The Nature Conservancy (and a member of Save The Great South Bay’s advisory board), on the eelgrass efforts in the Great South Bay.
Save The Great South Bay is supporting Vasiluth’s efforts by providing volunteers to help collect eelgrass seeds as well as to glue them onto clamshells for planting at restoration sites. If you are interested in volunteering, visit www.savethegreatsouthbay.org/volunteer. Keep up the good work, Rob!