To visitors, boaters and those who work the water, Fire Island and the Great South Bay’s shimmering, magical lure are inspirational bell-ringers. So when Brian McAuliff was sworn in at Watch Hill as Patchogue’s new Rotary Club president, he announced his intention to tackle a cause the club hadn’t had on its agenda: the environment.
“That dovetailed with seeing (Sayville Rotary president) Bob Draffin at a training session and discussing initiatives,” said McAuliff. “Rotary is a bigger force. The bay is in trouble and Sayville had already been doing projects (to protect it.)”
As a result, several local Rotary Clubs, including Bellport and Islip, will partner this year with established environmental groups on specific projects to help improve water quality as well as aid initiatives on Fire Island.
The commitment was announced in December at Blue Goose restaurant in Patchogue during a lively joint meeting. Attendees included Advisors Citizens Campaign for the Environment Executive Director Adrienne Esposito, Kaetlyn Jackson of Fire Island National Seashore and bayman Keenan Boyle.
Boyle, who lives in Sayville and works with several oyster farms, including Maris Stella Blue Point Oysters, transports spat (baby oysters) from their hatcheries out to Snakehill Channel in Islip. They are then grown in cages to market size, about 2 to 3 inches. Boyle then takes them to events where he’s hired to shuck them. He works with Blue Point Brewing Company, among others.
“I’m a bayman for 15 years,” said Boyle, owner of Tall Mutha Shucka (he’s 6 feet 7 inches). “My job is to grow oysters on the bay, then bring them to events to shuck, so I’m among other oyster farmers creating a food source. But also oysters are taking nitrogen out of the water; each one filters 50 gallons a day. So it gives us stewardship, because we count on the cleanliness of the bay for our livelihood.”
The environmental thrust wasn’t a hard sell — all four Rotary presidents grew up on the South Shore.
“Bayport Beach is specific to Keep Islip Clean’s program,” explained Draffin, a lifelong Bayport resident who helps keep that beach pristine. “But I’m also a Creek Defender and we clean trash from Homan’s Creek.” Draffin pointed out that Rotary’s Beefsteak Dinner fundraiser is always held at the Long Island Maritime Museum, which overlooks the bay, and weekly meetings are at Land’s End, another waterside locale.
Incoming Bellport Rotary president Lorraine Kuehn, who attends Bellport Village meetings regularly, commented, “We are supporters of Friends of Bellport Bay. Several of our members grew up on Bellport Bay, and the village has Ho Hum Beach. We were honored to be asked.”
Islip’s president Liz Mayott said she had reached out to several clubs when she was inducted and was happy when Draffin contacted her. Mayott has been a volunteer at Seatuck Environmental Association in Islip since it was located at the Scully Estate after succeeding a hard-won fight to operate there with regular environmental programs. She also maintained a garden for them.
A committee will develop a working name at a meeting in mid-January (“Rotarians for a Better Environment” is one suggestion) and then start contacting the environmental organizations on their list to research specifically what’s needed. Organizations targeted so far include Friends of Fire Island, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Save the Great South Bay, Friends of Bellport Bay, Seatuck Environmental Association, Fire Island National Seashore, Peconic Bay Keeper and Long Island Maritime Museum. The committee’s findings will then be presented at a March 5 group meeting at the Irish Coffee Pub. “Islip and Bay Shore Rotary has helped us out in the past on projects,” said Seatuck Environmental Association executive director Enrico Nardone. “We’re excited to expand our relationship to help with ecological conditions.”
McAuliff said the intention is to aid organizations with old-fashioned muscle when needed along with funding. “We want to support people already doing good work that aligns with our resources, not create something new.”