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If you’ve ordered the Peconic Gold Oysters Rockefeller from Windamere at Strong’s Marine in Mattituck, you’ve contributed to a good cause with perhaps not even realizing.

That’s because Windamere is one of several restaurants on the East End that has donated proceeds of a menu item to the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program’s Back to the Bays Initiative, which is currently gearing up for another year of involving the community in maintaining and improving the quality of local waters.

Maybe you’ve seen it noted on menus at Windamere or other eateries that they’re contributing to the CCEM program and thought, “What is that?”

Here’s an explainer for you.

“We’ve always tried to engage the local community, and reaching restaurant patrons is an excellent source of outreach,” said Kim Barbour, the program’s outreach manager and events director. “This is a really simple way to support the program.” 

Barbour is currently talking with other area restaurants who are interested in donating proceeds from menu items this year and hopes to get many involved. In the past, local foodies may have noticed items on menus at restaurants such as Noah’s. The menu items, like the Peconic Gold Oysters Rockefeller at Windamere, use locally sourced shellfish. 

The program is also intertwined with Back to the Bays’ shellfish recycling initiative, which Barbour said the program wants to expand this year. 

“We collect shells [from restaurants] each week, cure them, eventually set oysters on them and then send them to the oyster reefs on our stewardship sites,” she explained. Currently, Back to the Bays, which was founded in 1985, is doing this with Little Creek Oyster Farm & Market in Greenport, but Barbour said that there are discussions to work with many more purveyors.

“It’s cool to link all these things together and collect the shell afterward,” said Barbour.

On the South Fork, restaurants like Cowfish and Rumba in Hampton Bays participate seasonally, and Barbour said she’s in discussions with restaurants on Shelter Island, as well.

The Back to the Bays mission is to preserve and protect local waters and provide a clean environment for fish, fowl and plants while helping those who depend on Cornell’s marine resources to remain sustainable. 

“Our researchers and educators are busy working to inform Long Islanders how we can each do our part to safeguard our environment,” the organization says in its mission statement. “Projects have been designed to bring back our once thriving eelgrass and shellfish populations, ensure our commercial fishing industry continues to thrive while limiting bycatch, provide public education about environmental consequences of storm water runoff, and introduce our young people to marine sciences and marine life on the East End.”

This year, the Sea Adventure Marine Camp will returm and Barbour said the Greenport Shellabration will be back again after a successful return in 2021. 

“We can’t wait to get back to more normal times,” Barbour said.

Visit Back to the Bays’ website for updated information about their 2022 plans and how you can get involved.