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Shinnecock Kelp Farmers helping to restore bay waters using traditional methods

Indigenous women harvest sugar kelp from Long Island waters
Indigenous women harvest sugar kelp from Long Island waters 02:38

SHINNECOCK BAY, N.Y. - It's a special time of year in the waters off eastern Long Island, filled with sugar kelp ready for harvest by a group of indigenous women. 

CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff got a rare look at their process that turns seaweed into a natural fertilizer, while also cleaning our waterways. 

For thousands of years, the Shinnecock people worked with seaweed. But this effort, in its third year, combines tribal history with a calling to answer a modern dilemma: Bay waters are dying. Seaweed can help. 

"I feel like we are making an impact for the next seven generations, as we have been taught to do," Danielle Hospon Begun said. "Everyone wins with sugar kelp... . The environment wins,  the community wins, green jobs." 

Shinnecock Kelp Farmers is a multi-generational, indigenous women-led nonprofit, working to benefit a beautiful place they call home. It's a journey that begins with seed, cultivated in a hatchery. Then tiny leaves are planted in frigid winter waters. 

"It's very difficult. It's labor intensive, but very restorative, not only to our bays but as someone out there doing it, it's very serene and beautiful process," Shinnecock Kelp Farmers Director Tela Troge said. 

"It's a labor of love, because we know that sugar kelp is going to sequester that extra nitrogen and other toxins. It's going to purify the water, and we are out there because we know the water is toxic," Donna Collins-Smith said. 

Then nature does what she does. 

"And she says, I'll do this with what you gave me, and that is awesome," Collins-Smith said. 

Kelp absorbs nitrogen. 

"Which improves water quality. It sequesters carbon, which fights climate change. The kelp ends up improving the biodiversity of the bay by being shelter for shrimp, and sea horse and sea scallops," Kevin Munroe of The Nature Conservancy said. 

And now the kelp wll be dried for a week, ready to be sold at the farmers markets, to be used as a soil amendment to fertilize the native way. 

"It really increases yield, and it's just a natural connection back to the historical agricultural roots of this region. It's how we grew everything," Tela said. 

While it grows, it cleans the bay. 

"It just moves my heart... when it comes out of the water, like, that it says 'Thank you.' It's 'thank you, you did good,'" Tela said. 

The Nature Conservancy awarded a grant to the Shinnecock Kelp Farmers to increase their hatchery, hoping they will be like ripples, encouraging others to grow kelp, and make a collective difference. 

You can buy their dried kelp this year at the East End Food Institute's Farmers Market in Riverhead every Saturday. 

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