Last summer, a spotlight was shown on Barnegat Bay with the premier of the documentary film, “The Oyster Farmers,” which aims to revitalize New Jersey’s lost oyster culture. The film, featuring many of Long Beach Island’s own baymen, has since won acclaim for driving environmental and sustainability awareness, and it has the accolades to prove it—including over 16 laurels at various film festivals across the country.
It would be easy to rest on those (literal) laurels, but the masterminds behind the film, produced by Oak Leaf Media and funded by the Jetty Foundation, are using it as a starting point for a larger environmental movement, rather than the end game. Angela Andersen, one of the film’s producers, serves as Long Beach Township’s Sustainability Coordinator, and is the unofficial ambassador for bay preservation on the island.
“Everything that we do is about the bay,” she explains. “If it wasn’t for the bay, we would be telling you quite a different story about oyster farming. It didn’t have to be successful, but the bay was ready for it, and it’s because of the hard work, dedication, and education that people are devoting to it.”
The documentary’s success in sparking interest on oyster farming has allowed Andersen to better advocate for additional education initiatives related to the bay. This summer, Long Beach Township will launch a new marine field station in Holgate hosting a variety of bay-related programs and activities. A temporary modular has been put in place for this year’s activities, with the goal of installing a permanent structure designed to look like a weathered fisherman’s cottage next summer to represent the bay’s heritage.
And while Andersen and her colleagues are hopeful that the field station will become a popular destination with visitors and locals alike, you wouldn’t necessarily have to go to Holgate to encounter some of their other projects. 14 restaurants on the island participate in their popular shell recycling program, which re-deposits oyster shells back into the bay, where they’re used to restore the reef habitat. To date, they’ve collected 860 bushels equaling 21 tons of oyster shells—for reference, 40 bushels will eventually cover 800 square feet of reef in the bay, Andersen explains.
Beyond the environmental benefit, the recycling program is also about spreading awareness and building a connection to oyster culture and where their food is coming from—the bay. Their “Follow the Shell” movement encourages restaurant-goers to learn about the entire process that it takes to get from bay-to-table, and to be active participants in the bay’s sustainability.
Those who want to be even more active can also participate in one of Andersen’s kayaking eco-tours. “From kindergarten to Congress, I’ll take anyone (out onto the bay),” she laughs. “I utilize getting people out on the water as a communication tool to educate them.”
And never has that been more important than on post-Hurricane Sandy LBI, she notes. “That time in our community was pivotal for everyone, that is the leading edge of all of this,” she explains. “(Now), the community at large is gathering together to say the collective resource of our waterways and marine species is critically important to all of our survival—and there’s a lot of unifying power in that.”
Learn more about The Oyster Farmers
documentary and the oyster recycling program