Hard clam population rebounds in Long Island's Shinnecock Bay

Baymen who for years worked the waters off Long Island hope their future is as clear and clean as the water in Shinnecock Bay.

"Ten feet of water, August, you can see the bottom," bayman Ed Warner said. "It's the first time in my lifetime other than the middle of winter."

Marine scientists successfully created special spawner sanctuaries in Shinnecock Bay to restore the hard clam population, which was deemed irrecoverable after the 1970s.

The 10-year effort led by Dr. Christopher Gobler, the endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at Stony Brook University, identified ideal conditions inside a lab and then replicated them in parts of the bay where harvests were essentially unheard of.

In just a matter of years, millions of seed clams reproduced. Higher clam densities led to faster rates of water filtration and a decrease in brown tide algae. The density of hard clams in the bay has increased by 1,700%, Gobler said.

"Doing the research to figure out where will the clams will survive, where will the offspring go, will they be able to reproduce successfully," Gobler said. "This is an environmental win showing we can bring back a clam community, improve water quality that's led to the ecosystem rebounding." 

With the lifespan of a hard clam about 40 years and the survival rates near perfect, the outlook is promising, experts say. 

"We estimate there's been more than $30 million put into the regional economy from the harvest of those clams and economic multipliers like wholesalers, restaurants and tourism," Gobler said. 

Turning the tide, hoping to restore the oyster population and use this success as a shining example for other estuaries around the world.