At the New England Seaweed Symposium in March of 2020, brothers Dan and Greg Martino met professor Patrick Heitkamp from Southern Connecticut State University.

It was a relationship that would quickly grow roots, both underwater and in the laboratory.

The Martino brothers are the brains and brawn behind Cottage City Oysters. Their oyster farm is located off Eastville beach in Oak Bluffs. Relative newcomers to the industry, they were inspired in 2014 after Dan helped film a show about the Billion Oyster Project in New York.

“I got bit by the oyster bug,” Greg recalled.

“It was a calling,” Dan said. “We all see the ocean acidification and climate change, especially our generation. This was something that we could contribute and do something to help the water and be a part of the answer and maybe build the answer.”

Now they are furthering their mission, looking to create with Mr. Heitkamp an eco-label for their oyster farm.

“We started talking and riffing . . .  and we hit on the topic,” Greg said.

After assembling a team of researchers at Southern Connecticut State, Mr. Heitkamp sent the Martino brothers two probes that are currently floating on a two-acre parcel of ocean next to their farm.

“We have a virgin site in the ocean. It’s never been touched and in the first year we’re studying what happens there,” Greg Martino said.

The Martino brothers have also brought the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution into the mix. Using the probes and water samples from their plot, scientists in Woods Hole will be able to determine the chemistry of the ecosystem that resides in the Martino’s plot of ocean. And by extracting every strand of DNA from the water samples, the scientists can get a reading of exactly what species inhabit the waters and how prominent their presence is.

“Whether there’s 50 or 1,000 lobsters, you can pinpoint it,” Greg said. It’s pretty cool and very cutting edge.”

During the next year, the Martino brothers will work with WHOI and Mr. Heitkamp’s team to establish a baseline of what marine life is present in their plot and what goes on below the surface. Then, over the next four years, they will gradually introduce aquaculture gear to quantify how much marine life uses their farm as a habitat.

Once the research is complete and a model is established, the Martino brothers and the team at Southern Connecticut State plan to create a nonprofit through the university to create the eco-label and a template for other aquaculture farms.

“It’s a better choice,” Dan said. “It’s how you differentiate your product. This label will mean sustainable biodiversity and a smarter, cleaner choice.”

The Martino brothers plan to launch a website to display the data and information so the public can follow along. Dan said he hopes their project will illuminate the importance of studying the ocean around the Vineyard.

“We need more sensors around the Island,” Dan said. “I want to know where we’re at so in 20 or 30 years we know how it changed and what we did about it... not only for our livelihood but for everybody because the ocean is such an important part of this community.”

Updated to correct an earlier version which stated that the eco-label is an industry first. Eco-labels are used throughout the aquaculture industry.