HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Bushels of clams and oysters are devoured every day at Point Lookout Clam Bar, but the shells are no longer going in the trash.

On Thursday, the Town of Hempstead launched a barrier reef composed of thousands of discarded shells donated by a dozen restaurants.

As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, the town bundles the shells together, then dumps hundreds of bags of them off the coast of Lido Beach.

“The task of rebuilding our marshland in this area starts today by linking together hundreds of these mesh bags that you see here to construct our living reef,” said Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen.

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The idea is to re-fortify marshes that have been decimated for decades by storms and nitrogen pollution. Bags of shells linked together will build up critically needed marshland.

“That’s our natural defense for major storms, and it’s been degraded to the point that we are very vulnerable,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

The natural reefs will also attract new marine life, and by summer’s end, the town will plant hundreds of thousands worth of tiny oysters and clams on top of the bags, which will filter the water to help bring a dying bay back to life.

“It reduces the wave energy hitting the marsh and allows the fine sentiment to rebuild the marsh,” said Maureen Murphy of Citizen’s Campaign for the Environment.

The reef will run a full mile around marshland helping to protect it from further erosion.

Restaurant owners are happy to see old shells get new life.

“It’s the future habitat and future clams, and I got to admit it’s a win win for everybody,” said Point Lookout Clam Bar owner Mike Mihale.

The marshes have shrunk in size about 50 percent in the last century. Town officials hope to they begin to grow within the next year.