Restoring Local Waters

JT Casamassima ’25 Researches Marine Life for Cornell Cooperative Extension

Casamassima cleans an oyster crate on a Long Island dock.

Anthony Scarmozzino ’24

While Long Island is known for its gorgeous coastal scenery, since the 1970s overfishing and pollution have continually degraded the water quality. This has greatly impacted the Island’s marine life, which includes bivalve creatures such as oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops that clean and depollute water.

In response to this crisis, the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Huntington partners with dedicated students to find methods to restore the dwindling bivalve population. One of these students is Chaminade High School’s very own JT Casamassima ’25. Over the summer, Casamassima worked as one of three selected interns to research restoring Long Island’s oyster population.

Casamassima has always had a passion for marine life. Since he was a child, his family was always boating or fishing. In his younger years, Casamassima took every opportunity he could to study oysters and other marine creatures. So when it came time to choose a fifth grade science fair project, the decision to research marine life was an obvious one. For his project, Casamassima investigated the effectiveness of oyster filtration on ecosystems. This project laid a foundation and, at the following year’s fair, Casamassima improved his design and continued investigation into this field of study. Through his passion, Casamassima formed connections with groups such as the Cornell Cooperative.

This past summer, Casamassima worked alongside two other interns at the Cornell Cooperative’s flourishing marine education program. The students investigated the benefits of oysters, clams, and mussels on local habitats. These sea creatures, called filter feeders, are vital in maintaining a healthy marine ecosystem. Filter feeders are unique in their ability to eat by pumping and filtering large volumes of water through their bodies. One oyster alone can pump and filter over 50 gallons of water daily.

Beyond their ability to clean water, these filter feeders also work to create natural reefs that stabilize sediments, protecting habitats from erosion and storms. Due to overfishing, however, Long Island’s bivalve population is dwindling.

“The thing that is threatening these habitats is over-harvesting,” Casamassima elaborated. “People didn’t realize how crucial oysters and other bivalves were, so they harvested them for food.”

As part of his internship, Casamassima created oyster crates to introduce more marine life to the waters. These crates contain many young oysters, which will eventually grow and introduce even more oysters into the environment. With the help of many local yacht clubs such as the Huntington Yacht Club and the Northport Yacht Club, these crates were brought out by local boaters and then cleaned and periodically monitored by Casamassima and his colleagues. Under the leadership of the head of the HuntingtonCornell Cooperative, Barry Udelson, these interns were taught everything from oyster gardening,to cleaning, to creating a resistant and flourishing oyster population. This past year, Casamassima has brought his passion for marine study to Chaminade. As an active member of the Science Research Club, Casamassima is currently working on reporting information he has collected, as well as researching more large- scale efforts similar to the Cornell initiative. Casamassima hopes to bring more yacht clubs on board in future years to continue making a positive impact on the ecosystem.

So what can Long Island locals do to support this cause? “The main thing that can help is sponsoring a crate,” Casamassima stated. “These crates help to both grow more oysters and inform locals at yacht clubs about the importance of oysters and other bivalves. Donating and learning greatly contribute to the restoration project.”

People often take for granted the vast expanse and beauty of our coastal environment. Thankfully, dedicated students and researchers such as Casamassima are working tirelessly to maintain the environment for generations to come. So when you’re in Long Island water next summer, thanks to Casamassima and the oysters, it may be just a little cleaner.