OCEAN TOWNSHIP (Ocean) — Its name is both a play on words and a distillation of its mission. ReClam the Bay is well into its second decade of informing and engaging the public about growing shellfish life in the Barnegat Bay watershed.

Rick Bushnell, ReClam the Bay president, said the title of the organization came from the idea of a "reclamation project," but also highlights the importance of clams and other shellfish in filtering algae out of the water. When that happens, the water becomes clearer, allowing for the continued growth of eelgrass, which in turn encourages the health of other sea creatures.

The presence of nitrogen, created by waste and runoff byproducts, is a constant concern.

As Bushnell, a lifelong sailor, puts it, if there are more shellfish in these bays (Barnegat, Manahawkin and Little Egg Harbor), more marine life of other types will follow.

ReClam the Bay has its roots in the Barnegat Bay Shellfish Restoration Program, which began as an offshoot of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. But it soon grew into its own nonprofit, tasked with making the watershed more profitable.

"We've always felt that if the bay is to improve, it's got to be an economic success, and that will make it an ecologic success," Bushnell said.

One of the organization's main goals is to get people thinking about what they can do in their regular lives, away from the bay, to improve coastal water quality. Water flows in from streams and other bodies of water such as the Toms River, so if those pathways are polluted, bay areas will be affected.

"What we're really trying to explain to people when they're on beautiful islands enjoying the summer is that you can actually help us more when you go back home, if you take care of the environment when you're back home," Bushnell said.

That can include something as simple as remembering to pick up after your pets.

Something Bushnell said has really increased interest and involvement with ReClam the Bay is the foodie trend of the last five years or so. Diners want to buy local and buy fresh, and they're evermore interested in oysters. According to Bushnell, more than a dozen people are now making a living growing clams and oysters in the Barnegat Bay.

ReClam the Bay is also responsible for a series of attractions you may have noticed traveling through southern Ocean County. It's called the Clam Trail, a collection of 35 giant, painted clams, each accompanied by an ecological fact. The nonprofit offers a clam passport for these structures, including even more educational information.

To find out how you can get involved, go to reclamthebay.org.

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