Tag Archive | "Peconic Estuary"

Toxic Tide Shows Up Early in Sag Harbor

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High levels of Cochlodinium detected in Sag Harbor cove last week could put shellfish and finfish at risk. 

By Mara Certic

Just weeks after blue-green algal blooms were detected in Georgica Pond, extremely high levels of the toxic rust alga Cochlodinium have emerged in Sag Harbor and East Hampton waters.

Cochlodinium first appeared on Long Island in 2004 and has been detected in local waters every summer since. According to Professor Christopher Gobler, who conducts water quality testing and is a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, densities above 500 cells per milliliter can be lethal to both finfish and shellfish. The Gobler Laboratory recorded Cochlodinium at densities exceeding 30,000 cells per milliliter in Sag Harbor Cove, and over 1,000 in Accabonac and Three Mile Harbors.

The eastern location and timing of this year’s bloom surprised scientists, because for the past 11 years, the water quality experts have tracked west-to-east algal migration. “With blooms typically emerging in the tributaries of the far-western Peconic Estuary in mid-to-late August,” Professor Gobler said.

“Our Long Island Water Quality Index program samples all of Long Island from Queens to Montauk on a weekly basis and has found the western Peconics to be clear of rust tide.  Late last week, we saw rust tide at moderate levels in East Hampton and thought it might be a blip,” he said.

“However, this week, the rust tide spread to at least three distinct harbors and reached a level in Sag Harbor we have not seen anywhere on Long Island in several years.”

According to a laboratory technician who helps conduct the water quality testing for the Trustees, Cochlodinium was detected in small amounts in Accabonac Harbor two weeks ago. The algae were not visible at that time, he said, but made it more difficult to see the sea floor.

The following week, the rust tide was detected in similar levels in Three Mile Harbor and at levels so high in Sag Harbor Cove that the algae bloom was noticeable on the surface of the water in some areas.

Professor Gobler might have an explanation as to why these blooms appeared in Eastern waters this year. “We have found that nitrogen loading makes these blooms more intense and more toxic. As nitrogen loading has increased into our bays, these events have intensified,” he said in the release.

Professor Gobler addressed the Southampton Town Board during a work session on Thursday, August 7, during which he proposed two projects, which would provide the scientific data local lawmakers need to mitigate nitrogen loading.

The first of these proposals would be a series of questions online which would allow residents to figure out their nitrogen contribution to the watershed. “This can certainly be tailored, improved upon and altered,” Professor Gobler said, adding that it could even be on the new Southampton Town website.

Professor Gobler said that outdated septic systems are responsible for the majority of the nitrogen loading on the East End. Southampton Town has been looking towards developing water quality technology and improving septic systems.

“What level of nitrogen reduction, on a bigger picture, does that require? And that’s a question that no one can answer these days,” Supervisor Throne-Holst said at the work session. The second proposal would attempt to determine by how much nitrogen levels would need to be reduced.

“We’re all dedicated to trying to figure out any way possible not to kill the health of the bay,” Sag Harbor Village Trustee Robby Stein said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We’re trying to do what we can,” he said, adding that the Village is trying to encourage better policy around nitrogen loading, and has recently created a septic rebate system, which would provide rebates for the replacement of septic systems installed before 1981.

Professor Gobler’s lab has also begun to understand why these algae blooms have occurred every year since they were first detected. “We have discovered the organism makes cysts or seeds, which wait at the bottom of the bay and emerge each summer to start a new bloom,” he said. “At the end of the bloom, they turn back into cysts and settle back to the bay bottom.  This allows for the blooms to return every year.”

During the rust tides of the past few years, scallop populations decreased dramatically in the Peconic Estuary. This year’s high Cochlodinium densities in Sag Harbor have not been seen for a few years, Professor Gobler said.

“While this is somewhat uncharted territory, we anticipate the rust tide will spread and emerge in the western Peconics and Shinnecock Bay in the coming weeks,” he said.

Professor Gobler said that blooms typically continue until water temperatures drop below 60 degrees.

Larger finfish typically can outswim the algal blooms, and are not always affected by the toxic tides. Fish stuck in pound traps, however, can be killed in a matter of hours when the tides roll in.

And although scallops are better swimmers than other bivalves, it is unlikely that they would be able to swim away from a lethal tide. “They’re at the mercy of the environment,” said John “Barley” Dunne, director of the East Hampton Shellfish Hatchery. “They can’t escape an algae bloom,” he said.

 

Baykeeper: Leaky Sewage Regs Killing East End Waters

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At a press conference on Tuesday, September 18, Peconic Baykeeper Kevin MacAllister presented his 2012 Baywatch report. That report highlights the importance of the Clean Water Act, the impact septic systems are having on the Peconic Estuary and why government needs to step up to the plate to battle the increasingly detrimental affects of nitrogen loading in the bays.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed by Congress 40 years ago this October in reaction to the burning of the Cuyahoga River and other galvanizing affects, said MacAllister in a press release issued in advance of his talk. The CWA set goals of the country striving for “zero discharge of pollutants” by 1995 and fishable and swimming waters by 1983.

When CWA was enacted in 1972, two-thirds of America’s waterways were polluted, said MacAllister.

Forty years later, said MacAllister, a third of the nation’s water bodies are still contaminated, including an overwhelming majority of waters in Suffolk and Nassau County.

“If you’re a Suffolk County resident and you live near a body of water, chances are it is polluted,” said MacAllister.

In Suffolk County alone, over 100 bodies of water have been classified as impaired by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Little Fresh Pond and Big Fresh Pond in Southampton and Mill Pond and Seven Ponds in Water Mill are among the new bodies of water the DEC has classified as impaired, said MacAllister.

According to the Baykeeper, a major source of pollution on Long Island comes from onsite wastewater disposal systems. He championed this belief in a 2010 Baywatch report, which caught the attention of local government officials, including Suffolk County Legislator Edward Romaine, who acknowledged, “our current wastewater regulations do not sufficiently protect drinking and surface waters and are in need of reform.”

“We must take the necessary nitrogen reduction actions at all levels of government to ensure the long-term health of our waterways,” said Romaine in 2010.

Continuing this discussion, the Peconic Baykeeper said its 2012 Baywatch report intends to bring greater public awareness to the topic of nitrogen pollution from wastewater and draw attention to the extent to which local waters have been degraded. Baywater 2012 also calls on elected officials to take meaningful actions to restore and protect local waters.

“It is time to turn the tide and bring water to the forefront of our consciousness and public conversations,” said MacAllister.

In that effort, the Peconic Baykeeper, through its counsel, Super Law Group, LLC has petitioned the DEC to ratchet down nitrogen effluent through more stringent discharge standards.

“DEC has failed to comply to the legal mandates of the Clean Water Act and state law, both of which require strict permit limits on the discharge of nitrogen, in order to protect water quality,” said Baykeeper’s attorney, Reed Super.

Bay Scallop Restoration Program to Expand

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Working with the State of New York through funding provided by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) announced last week it will expand the Peconic Bay Scallop Restoration Project in Suffolk County.

CCE has signed a contract with the state and will move forward with the first stages of the $182,900 award it received as a part of the Governor’s Regional Council initiative — a challenge issued to regions throughout the state to pitch economic development concepts with the potential to earn funding based on merit.

The Peconic Bay Scallop Restoration Project focuses on restoring the bay scallop population on Long Island in an effort to protect the eco-system and generate marine-related economic activity.

“Suffolk County’s marine-based businesses are vital to the overall health of our regional economy,” said Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association and Regional Council co-chair. “I applaud the efforts of the CCE and its partners to revive the bay scallop population as it will help both the environment and Long Islanders wallets. The partnership between the Council and CCE will allow us to grow our economy now while ensuring one of the area’s traditional industries not only survives, but flourishes once again.”

In 2005 Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Marine Program and Long Island University partnered with Suffolk County to create the largest scallop spawner sanctuary to restore the famous Peconic Bay Scallop. According to a press release issued last week, CCE will use the regional council funding to increase seed production, collection and planting and educate shellfish companies with field demonstrations on how to successfully grow bay scallops. Working on developing a marketing event is also planned.

“Thanks to the support of the Long Island Regional Economic Council and the Empire State Development Corp, CCE of Suffolk can continue to play a vital role in sustaining this heritage industry,” said Vito Minei, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.