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Sustainable Sites and Raising Oysters…What do These Have in Common?

This past weekend I attended an event sponsored by the Moriches Bay Project™ where participants helped to build oyster cages and set up an oyster farm off the dock of a local family's property.  So what does this have to do with the LEED® for Homes green building program?  A lot, as it turns out. 

Photo courtesy of Moriches Bay Project

Photo courtesy of Moriches Bay Project

The Sustainable Sites category of the LEED for Homes program addresses issues of erosion and surface water runoff, and aims to protect bodies of water in and around a LEED project site.  Why is this important?  As people move closer and closer to bodies of water, the potential for human activities to interfere with delicate ecosystems increases.  In the case of our local bays, non-functional septic systems, the use of lawn fertilizers, and application of chemical pest controls have deposited harmful non-point source pollution into the local waterways (see boxed information from the United States Environmental Protection Agency web site).

A full grown healthy oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day.
— Laura Fabrizio, Director, Moriches Bay Project

 As a result of these factors and other human activity, water quality in the Shinnecock and neighboring Moriches bays, has deteriorated to the point that the bays have experienced episodes of harmful algal blooms, and a dying off of eelgrass and shellfish populations. 

Moriches Bay Project's Dwight Surgan, right, demonstrates how to build oyster cages and set up an oyster farm

Moriches Bay Project's Dwight Surgan, right, demonstrates how to build oyster cages and set up an oyster farm

But programs established by the Moriches Bay Project and the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program are aiming to reverse the harmful effects of human activity in the local waterways. 

Christine Santora, Program Coordinator for the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program,  tells me that "over 75% of the nitrogen pollution coming into Shinnecock Bay comes from waste water (meaning septic tanks). So, this is actually a solvable problem (with a lot of effort and political/community will obviously!).  We are trying to provide an 'in the water solution.'  We know that changing our land-based problems will take a dedicated, longstanding effort, and will be expensive.  In the meantime, we are implementing some positive change within the bay which will not only restore important shellfish populations and habitat such as eelgrass, but could perhaps even buy some time until land-based problems are properly addressed." 

Each of these organizations sponsors important aquaculture programs that enlist local residents to set up oyster “farms.”  According to Laura Fabrizio, Director of the Moriches Bay Project, “a full grown healthy oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water in one day” thereby helping to repair the damage caused by human activity. 

The Sunset Green Home project is located adjacent to an undeveloped waterfront lot on the Shinnecock Bay.  So what are the strategies that Sunset Green Home will use to reduce the likelihood that we cause any harm to the local waters?  We’re going to:

  • Build a new septic system that is elevated away from ground water
  • Incorporate dry wells and rainwater harvesting to contain storm water runoff
  • Landscape with drought tolerant turf, and native and adaptive plants – which require less fertilizer and water than invasive species
  • Create a 75 foot native vegetation buffer between the home and the adjacent waterfront lot, which is designed to further protect the bay from potential runoff
  • Include non-toxic pest control strategies – like non-toxic termite baiting – to reduce the need for poisons to control insects and other pests

Incorporating these and other strategies will help us satisfy LEED prerequisites and earn points toward our LEED certification. 

And, in addition, we’re talking to the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program about setting up our own oyster farm.  I've already recruited one of our neighbors to participate.  The next thing I need to do is recruit my remaining neighbors so that we all do our part to keep our bay healthy.

Happy Farming!

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