By Mara Certic
The East Hampton Town Trustees closed Georgica Pond to fishing and crabbing on July 24, after routine water testing found there to be increased levels of blue-green algae.
In 2013 the Trustees initiated water quality testing with Christopher Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Services. Trustee Clerk Diane McNally said that blue-green algae, which can cause blooms of cyanobacteria, was found in “miniscule amounts” at the time of testing but that the Trustees decided to close the body of water as a precautionary matter.
The Trustees are allowed to close off any body of water in their jurisdiction for up to 21 days without seeking approval from the town board or holding a public hearing.
“It seemed in our best interest,” Ms. McNally explained. “There’s not any data that would confirm or eliminate the possibility that consuming [crabs] would not be detrimental to humans,” she said.
John “Barley” Dunne, the director of the town’s shellfish hatchery explained that the effect of blue-green algae on shellfish is relatively unknown because it is a fresh water algae, and therefore does not commonly affect saltwater crustaceans.
“They don’t know if shellfish or crustaceans will ingest it,” he said. “As far as I know there hasn’t been much research or work done on these.” In the 1980s, a series of toxic algal blooms known as Brown Tide swept through the East End, killing a huge number of clams, scallops and oysters and resulting in the creation of the shellfish hatchery in order to supplement the wild population.
“This one’s different,” he said. “It’s kind of strange and it’s bloomed in this brackish water,” Mr. Dunne said.
He added that Georgica Pond is already closed to shellfishing year-round by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Mr. Dunne added that the Trustees’ action would likely affect the blue claw crab fishery, which he said had been quite successful this summer. Ms. McNally concurred, saying “it’s been an absolutely fabulous year for crabbing.”
Four days after the Trustees sent a letter to East Hampton Town residents informing them of the closure, the DEC confirmed the presence of a cyanobacteria bloom in Georgica Pond and asked residents not to swim, wade or use the pond and to keep pets and children away.
The release states that “though blue-green algae are naturally present in lakes and streams in low numbers, they can become abundant, forming blooms in shades of green, blue-green, yellow, brown or red. They may produce floating scums on the surface of the water or may cause the water to take on paint-like appearance.”
It continues to say “contact with waters that appear scummy or discolored should be avoided. If contact does occur, rinse off with clean water immediately, and if symptoms occur, such as nausea, vomiting or diarrhea; skin, eye or throat irritation, allergic reactions or breathing difficulties, seek medical attention.”
The East Hampton Town Trustees will look at a more recent water sample from Georgica Pond when they meet on Tuesday, August 12. After they receive that information they will determine whether or not they will keep the pond closed. Ms. McNally said that the town board has indicated that it will support whatever the Trustees choose to do.
“What it amounts to is collecting the data and doing those comparisons,” she said, adding that there were no such algal blooms last year, when testing began. She said that there were various potential contributing factors, and added that the town did not excavate the gut of Georgica Pond this year, which it had done during the winter of 2012-2013. “So that’ll be thrown into the mix,” she said.
In an email sent on Wednesday morning, Dr. Gobler wrote, “the levels of blue green algae in the Pond have remained at a moderate level during the past 10 days.” He continued to say that he had done the first measurements of the blue green algal toxin, microcystin, which is present “but thankfully at low levels.”
This week, the city of Toledo, Ohio advised several hundred residents not to drink the water after a significant bloom of blue-green algae in Lake Erie showed readings above the standard for consumption. Dr. Gobler explained that the current level of microcystin in Georgica (0.5 micrograms per liter) is half of the drinking water standard set by the World Health Organization.
“A half million people had no drinking water in Ohio and Michigan over the weekend, as the same blue green algae are blooming in Lake Erie. Georgica is not used as drinking water, and thus these levels are not a serious threat, even for recreational use,” he continued.
One danger, he explained, is that winds can create surface scums of algae, concentrating them and making the algae more harmful. “People and pets should always avoid dense aggregations of thick, green material on the shoreline,” he said.
This closure comes almost two years after a dog reportedly died from drinking water at Georgica Pond during a dangerous algal bloom. Dr. Gobler recently helped develop a flyer on pets and blue green algae, which explains the risks, the symptoms and various preventative measures.