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Friday, 21 June 2019 16:37

West Brook Pond Dam Failure

WestBrook North 

June 21, 2019

(VIA EMAIL: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

George Gorman, Regional Director

NYSOPR – Long Island Region

625 Belmont Ave

West Babylon, NY 11704

RE:     West Brook Pond Dam

Dear Director Gorman:

We recently visited the Bayard Cutting Arboretum in Great River to examine the site where the dam has failed at West Brook Pond. We are writing to urge the NYSORP Regional Office to leave the dam in its current state and allow West Brook to run freely. The situation presents a rare opportunity to reconnect a coastal stream and restore natural riverine conditions. Doing so would generate a host of ecological benefits, including the creation of more diverse riparian habitat and the potential for restoration of river herring to the Connetquot River tributary.

In its current state, West Brook (while certainly still impacted by road and rail crossings) is now fully connected; that is, there are no complete barriers to wildlife migration or movement. For the first time in well over a hundred years, native species such as Alewife, Blueback Herring, American Eel, Brook Trout and River Otter have full, unfettered access to the full reach of the waterway. It is now one of only a few fully connected rivers or streams on Long Island! We strongly recommend that the Regional Office seize this rare opportunity to allow this unique situation to persist.

The following is a more detailed review of the opportunities and issues presented by the situation at West Brook:

Diadromous Fish

Like the many other coastal rivers and streams on Long Island, West Brook was once an important part of the native landscape, providing habitat and resources for countless riverine and terrestrial species. As a tributary of the Connetquot River, it was also an integral part of the coastal ecosystem: the creek helped to connect upland habitats with Great South Bay and the broader marine ecosystem, providing a critical avenue for the movement of sediments, nutrients and species between fresh and saltwater.

An important part of the connection that streams like West Brook provided was the unique fish that move between fresh and marine waters. This category of fish, known as diadromous fish, split their life cycles between fresh and salt water. Long Island’s rivers and streams weren’t large enough to support salmon (the most well-known diadromous species), but they did host annual migrations of river herring (both Alewives and Blueback Herring) and American Eels. Each spring, “runs” of river herring migrated in from the ocean to spawn in freshwater. Around the same time, juvenile American Eels, hatched a year earlier in the middle of the Atlantic, would arrive to run up into the rivers and streams where they would spend several decades before reversing the trip and swimming thousands of miles into the ocean to spawn.

Critically, through their remarkable life cycles, these fish delivered ocean-derived energy and biomass into the waterway and provided important forage for a wide range of species. From Bald Eagles, River Otters and Raccoons that preyed on adult river herring to the myriad other species that benefited from consuming juvenile eels and river herring eggs. Importantly, this influx of energy came at a time, in the early spring, when many other species were completing their own migrations (e.g. Osprey) or had just made it through winter on Long Island (e.g. Harbor Seals).

West Brook

Historical records about diadromous fish are scarce for many of Long Island’s rivers and streams, but biologists expect that they occurred in most of the island’s coastal waterways. In the case of West Brook, however, there is no need to speculate; thanks to the archives at Bayard Cutting, we know that they once poured into the waterway. In fact, as you know, the brackish pool just upstream from where West Brook enters the Connetquot River was known as “Herring Pool”!  Interpretive signage at the property indicates that the family allowed their staff to harvest herring from the pool – a task for which it says they only needed rakes since the waterway was so densely packed with fish!

As you may know, Seatuck (which chairs the Long Island Diadromous Fish Work Group) has been managing the Annual Volunteer River Herring Survey for the past 12 years. While we have not been able to confirm the presence of a “remnant run” of river herring in the Connetquot River (a notoriously difficult place to survey), we have had numerous anecdotal sightings of the fish from both our volunteers and local anglers. We’re confident the fish, particularly Alewife, are moving into the vicinity each spring and could be reestablished in West Brook if the connectivity of the waterway was allowed to persist.

As mentioned above, with the West Brook Pond dam removed, river herring have full access to the full run of the waterway. They would have to navigate a small culvert 50 feet under Montauk Highway, but biologists no longer consider such dark passages to present a migration barrier (in fact, Seatuck recently documented river herring migrating 700 feet through an underground culvert on the Mill River in Rockville Centre!). Once past Montauk Highway, the fish would have easy passage through the sinuous stretch of stream (which has quickly reformed where West Brook Pond formerly existed), under Sunrise Highway and into the impounded (but not fully dammed) section of the stream north of the highway. From there they have access to nearly three-quarters of a mile of additional upstream habitat. The sections of flowing stream combined with partially-impounded “flatwater” would provide excellent spawning habitat for both Alewife and Blueback Herring.

Warm-Water Fish

The draining of the impoundment will certainly result in a loss of habitat for bluegills, bass and other warm-water fish. And it will reduce the availability of recreational fishing opportunities for those interested in pursuing these species. On the other hand, the potential to restore river herring runs and Brook Trout to West Brook and enhance American Eel populations would have offsetting recreational benefits. Increased numbers of river herring and eels, in particular, would generate forage for larger predatory fish in the Great South Bay, including popular sportfishing species such as Bluefish and Striped Bass. In addition, there are numerous other nearby warm-water fishing locations for anglers to enjoy, including Main Pond in Connetquot River State Park, Knapps Lake in Islip and Patchogue and Canaan Lakes in Patchogue.

Birds

Another issue encountered during dam removals is concern for the loss of open water habitat for waterfowl (especially those species that overwinter on Long Island) and associated bird watching opportunities. With regard to the former West Brook Pond, however, these concerns are limited: there is little evidence that the pond provided significant waterfowl habitat or was a popular birding destination.

According to eBird (the popular birding database maintained by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology), West Brook Pond has only had 22 checklists submitted and a total 64 species reported. By contrast, Connetquot River State Park has had 1,366 checklists submitted, with a total species count of 212. The following is a comparison of eBird “high counts” at West Brook Pond and Connetquot River State Park for several common waterfowl species:

eBird High Counts (All Years)

Species

West Brook

Connetquot

American Coot

1

16

Northern Shoveler

1

6

American Black Duck

2

49

Hooded Merganser

2

50

Common Merganser

6

323

Mallard

22

349

Ring-necked Duck

26

300

Canada Goose

85

565

American Wigeon

None reported

60

Lesser Scaup

None reported

400

Green-winged Teal

None reported

37

Canvasback

None reported

35

Ruddy Duck

None reported

150

This data suggests that it is reasonable to assume that the loss of open water habitat will have a minimal impact on waterfowl. Those birds occasionally using the pond can move a short distance to find suitable habitat within Connetquot River State Park or any of the other numerous nearby lakes and ponds. And again, the establishment of freshwater meadows, mudflats and other rare habitats will attract a greater diversity of birds and provide better bird watching opportunities.

Repair & Maintenance

All impoundments fill in over time. When flowing water slows down it loses its ability to carry sediments. These sediments then “fall out” into the bottom of the impoundment and the pond gradually gets shallower. When sunlight can reach the bottom, plants start to grow. This “submerged aquatic vegetation” (SAV) comes in the form of invasive non-native species, such as water chestnut (Trapa natans) and also native species, such as yellow pond lily (Nuphar advena) (which was a problem at West Brook Pond).

SAVs eventually take over impounded waterways, making boating, fishing and other recreational activities difficult and requiring expensive remedies. The Town of Brookhaven has spent more than five million dollars in recent years to address SAVs in two impoundments on the Carmans River. Dealing with the SAVs at West Brook Pond would not only require considerable expense, but it would also be temporary. Eventually, the siltation process would refill the pond and plants would start to grow again.

In addition to the cost of dredging and dealing with SAVs, the Regional Office would also have to address the considerable cost of repairing the dam, which contains extensive crumbling concrete and aging bulkheading. With perhaps some minor exceptions, these repair and ongoing maintenance expenses would be unnecessary if the impoundment was abandoned and West Brook simply left to flow naturally.

NYSOPR’s River Restoration History

Of course, we know that the Regional Office is well versed in the issues raised above and has considerable experience with riverine restoration. Of the three dams that have failed on Long Island in recent years, two occurred within State Parks. The first, where Superstorm Sandy breached a dam Sunken Meadow State Park, has become one of the most celebrated ecological restoration projects on Long Island. The Regional Office’s decision to allow natural stream flow and tidal hydrology to be restored to the site has resulted in a location that attracts abundant wildlife, including one of most active River Otter gatherings on Long Island.

The other, less well known, is the dam failure at the westernmost of the “Northern Ponds” at Hempstead Lake State Park. In not immediately repairing this dam, the Regional Office allowed for the establishment of a unique and ecologically valuable emergent freshwater wetland complex. Seatuck conducted several years of bird surveys of the area for the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (as part of the Living with the Bay project). We were repeatedly impressed by the assemblages of birds that the meadows, mudflats and shallow waterways attracted. The rare freshwater habitat attracted an impressive diversity of birds, especially during migration season.

The birds using the location that rely on shallow water and muddy habitat included Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer, Stilt Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Semipalmated Sandpiper, Solitary Sandpiper, White-rumped Sandpiper, Western Sandpiper, Short-billed Dowitcher, Wilson’s Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs and Lesser Yellowlegs. Significantly, an eBird report documented a large flock of 425 Least Sandpipers at the location on August 20, 2016. This was the largest number of Least Sandpiper ever recorded in Nassau County. It highlights the value that rare freshwater habitats can have for flocks of migrating shorebirds that require places to rest and refuel during their long-distance journeys.

The Regional Office’s decisions with regard to failed dams at Sunken Meadow and Hempstead Lakes allowed for the transformation of locations with low bird abundance and diversity to thriving habitats with high abundance and diversity – they became two of the most significant wildlife sites on Long Island.

We urge the Regional Office to follow the pattern it has established at Sunken Meadow and Hempstead Lake. West Brook offers a similar opportunity, where positive ecological benefits are likely to occur by not repairing a failed dam. We strongly recommend that the Regional Office seize this rare and unique opportunity to fully reconnect one of Long Island’s coastal streams. We pledge our support and cooperation to do anything we can to help with the restoration of the waterway.

Thank you again for the opportunity to present this information and to engage with the Regional Office in the future of West Brook. Please let us know if you have any questions or require additional information.

Very truly yours,

ENRICO NARDONE, Executive Director                                               

JOHN TURNER, Conservation Policy Advocate

MAUREEN DUNN, Water Quality Scientist

     

CC (VIA EMAIL):

Theresa Santoro, Suffolk County Regional Representative,

     Office of New York State Governor

The Honorable Monica R. Martinez, New York State Senate

The Honorable Todd Kaminsky, New York State Senate,

     Chair, Senate Environmental Conservation Committee

The Honorable Steve Englebright, New York State Assembly,

     Chair, Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee

The Honorable Andrew R. Garbarino, New York State Assembly

Brian X. Foley, Deputy Regional Director, NYSOPR, Long Island Region

Annie McIntyre, Regional Environmental Manager, NYSOPR, Long Island Region

Carrie Meek-Gallagher, Regional Director, NYSDEC, Region 1

Kevin Jennings, Regional Habitat Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Michele Gibbons, Regional Wildlife Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Heidi O’Riordan, Regional Fisheries Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Rob Marsh, Natural Resources Manager, NYSDEC, Region 1

Nelson W. Sterner, Executive Director, Bayard Cutting Arboretum

Friday, 07 June 2019 14:19

Valule of Waste Reduction

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The Value of Waste Reduction

John L. Turner

Ok, you’re at a barbecue this summer and another guest asks what you think is the best way to manage all the garbage that the party will generate (I know, pretty unlikely party conversation, but bear with me). As you search for a quick rejoinder your mind is spinning fast: you’ve learned from numerous press accounts about leaking landfills, with their groundwater-contaminating plumes and smelly methane emissions, that landfilling garbage — throwing all waste into a pit in the ground rather than reusing any of it or gaining energy from it through incineration — is a decidedly bad idea. 

Then its hits you, the answer must be: Recycling, of course! So you spurt it out, making clear to mention that you recycle your garbage at home by separating glass, metal, paper, and cardboard. You look for the approving nod of the head from your fellow party guest or some other type of affirming signal. But no, they rudely shake their head in a disapproving fashion. They answer: “While this party will generate garbage, the best solid waste strategy is to throw a party that doesn’t generate garbage to begin with”. This smart aleck has touched upon what solid waste policy makers have long known: waste reduction, the idea of not generating garbage in the first place, is the best idea to deal with garbage. After all, if there’s no garbage created there’s nothing to manage, treat, or dispose of. And, importantly, there’s no adverse environmental impact from trash that doesn’t exist. 

Two recent examples come to mind. On January 1, 2018, legislation enacted by Suffolk County took effect which placed a 5-cent fee on disposable paper and plastic grocery bags. The purpose of the law was to provide a financial incentive to county consumers to reduce their bag consumption (and the associated environmental impacts stemming from their manufacture and distribution) by using reusable bags or no bags at all. The result? An 81.7% reduction in the number of plastic bags and a 78.8% reduction in paper bags used and thrown away.  In actual numbers that’s approximately 1.1 billion (yes that’s billion with a “b”) less bags.   

The other example has to do with straws. Currently, when you go to a restaurant and order water or a soda it typically includes a straw whether you asked for it or not. With the recent adoption of Suffolk County “Request Only” legislation straws will now be provided to customers only upon request (and those that are provided will be made of paper). If this prevents one out of every two customers from using a straw that cuts the number of straws thrown away in half. In Suffolk County, as a result of this legislation,  an estimated 2,160,000 straws are used daily, so the above example means that more than 1 million straws will not be used and thrown away each and every day in Suffolk County. The figures for Nassau County are very similar. 

What’s the value of these two measures? Their obvious impact is in reducing the amount of garbage generated.  As mentioned above, there are  no environmental impacts from garbage that’s not generated! (And good news to taxpayers: there’s no financial cost to municipalities in managing garbage that’s not created!)

The environmental value of waste reduction illustrates a fundamental point that few of us ever (or rarely) think about: Virtually everything we consume or use has some impact on the natural resources that collectively comprise our life-sustaining environment during its manufacture, use, and disposal. The impact may be huge, medium, or tiny, but it’s there. It may be water quality impacts that result from the manufacture of paper bags or air quality impacts from the creation of plastic bags. Or it may stem from hundreds of other products. 

For the plastic bag and straw examples, the impacts are both front-end and back-end. For example, it takes polluting petroleum to manufacture plastic bags and straws and more of it to ship it to distribution points such as supermarkets and restaurants. At the back end, involving the disposal stage, many bags and straws end up in the environment where they break down into micro-plastics, which pollute soil, marine sediments, and are ingested by wildlife and humans alike!     

It’s easy to reduce the amount of garbage you generate if you think about it. Do you need to put that half gallon of milk with a built-in jug handle into a plastic bag? Can you bring your washable coffee mug to your local morning coffee vendor instead of using a new paper or styrofoam cup every day? How about doing away with wrapping paper for presents, opting instead for a reusable gift bag. And what about the barbecue? Perhaps the hosts could offer reusable plates, glasses and cutlery instead of relying on paper or plastic. Or mix pitchers of lemonade for children instead of handing out juice boxes. Or ensure that the vegetable waste, including all those watermelon rinds, end up in the backyard compost pile. 

Ways to reduce the amount of garbage you generate are only limited by your imagination  You, your community, and the planet will be the better for your efforts. 

Tuesday, 12 February 2019 01:46

Protecting the Diamondback Terrapin

One of Long Island’s more iconic coastal species is the Diamondback Terrapin, the only turtle in the world that inhabits brackish water habitats such as salt marshes, tidal creeks, and shallow bays and harbors. Individual terrapins can be seen with their heads bobbing at the water surface, basking in the sun on mud banks, and, most excitedly, occasionally encountered when a female comes ashore seeking a nesting site to lays her eggs.
On Long Island, historically, terrapin populations faced a number of threats including direct human harvest for food, and destruction of coastal nest-laying habitat (take a look at an aerial photograph of southern Nassau County and/or southwestern Suffolk County and the widespread destruction and alteration of habitats is plainly evident). Fortunately, collecting terrapins for food has been made illegal but they still face a myriad of other threats that jeopardize their long-term survival here such as motor vehicle and boat collisions.
To address these threats and address other basic aspects of terrapin ecology, Seatuck and other groups and individuals have formed the Long Island Diamondback Terrapin Working Group, which first met in 2018. 
The Working group held its second meeting on January 23, 2019, at Seatuck’s office at the Suffolk County Environmental Center. The meeting included:
 
1. Updates from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) staff on
  • Enforcement efforts regarding compliance by crabbers who use “Chesapeake style” non-collapsible crab pots, to make sure their vents are fitted with terrapin excluder devices (TEDS)
  • Number of TEDS that NYSDEC has distributed to commercial crabbers. (To defray the impacts to crabbers, Seatuck and the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy each purchased several thousand TEDS that were distributed to commercial crabbers through the NYSDEC). The TEDS are rectangular-shaped devices that are 1 3/4 inches high by 4 3/4 inches wide and are secured to the vents of the pots; studies in other states have documented as much as a 70-80% reduction in terrapin deaths by drowning through the use of TEDS, an outcome expected here. Through a departmental regulation, TEDS became mandatory in 2018 in NY coastal waters for all crab pots placed in creek and river mouths and in shallow coastal embayments such as Stony Brook and Mt. Sinai Harbors.
 
2. An update from NYS Department of Transportation staff on their dune construction project planned at Gilgo Beach. The dune is being constructed as part of the department’s efforts to mitigate environmental impacts from the construction of the bike path extending from Jones Beach State Park to Robert Moses State Park. It is hoped that the dune and the fencing around it will offer suitable nesting habitat for terrapins emerging from the bay to lay their eggs, thereby preventing them from continuing south into harms way on the Ocean Parkway where terrapins can easily be killed.
 
3. An update from Seatuck on the development of a computer/phone application whereby interested observers can document the presence and location of diamond-backed terrapins by inputting the information into the application. This application should be ready shortly; toensure accurate identification a photograph should accompany each submission. It’s hoped that broad public participation will allow us to get a much clearer picture of the turtle’s distribution along Long Island’s coast.
 
4. An update from researchers from Hofstra University, the NY City Parks Department, and Friends of Flax Pond regarding ongoing research and nesting results from the 2018 field season.
 
The next LI Diamondback Terrapin Working group meeting will take place in the fall. If you have an interest in terrapins and would like to attend or present information on some aspect of terrapin ecology or conservation please contact either John Turner (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or Enrico Nardone (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).
 
Friday, 30 November 2018 14:59

A Transparent Problem

3113963995 afbf90439c oBird species face a number of threats as they go about their daily lives. Foremost, they must be ever vigilant of predators of all sorts - other birds such as birds-of-prey like Great Horned Owls and Cooper’s Hawks - and a host of mammals, snakes, even fish in some cases! Layered on this are the significant and numerous threats posed by one specific mammal - Homo sapiens - that are adversely affecting birds, causing many species to decline, some dramatically. 

These suite of threats include: poisoning both intentional and incidental (oil spills); flying into wind turbines and power lines; destruction of wild habitats upon which birds depend; predation by feral and outdoor-roaming pet cats; the still evolving, multiple pronged threats posed by climate change; and birds dying when they fly into highly reflective or transparent windows. Seatuck is focusing on this last threat in the hope that local and New York State lawmakers  implement a set of strategies that begin to reduce the magnitude and scope of this source of avian mortality.   

The number of birds that die from flying into windows is staggering. Based on a detailed 2014 study between 365 and 988 million birds die annually from this cause; that comes out to between 1 and 2.7 million birds daily.  Common collision victims in New York include hummingbirds, sparrows, owls, numerous warbler and thrush species, American Woodcock; in total several dozen bird species regularly die flying into windows since they do not see them for what they are - an unyielding, rigid, surface. 

The problem stems from two basic characteristics that most windows have - either they’re transparent, allowing birds to see some inviting feature on the other side of the window pane or are highly reflective, creating a mirror-like image of the adjacent landscape the bird wants to travel to. The transparency problem can be especially problematic when there’s another transparent window aligned with the first, creating an alleyway the bird thinks it can negotiate through. 

But there is much good news amidst this deadly despair, most notably the development of a number of “bird friendly windows” and window treatments by private companies that can reduce or eliminate the magnitude of the impact. One example of many, is the emergence of windows that reflect patterns of UV light in the glass; the window pane looks normal to the human eye which cannot discern ultraviolet light but to s bird the pane is revealed as the bird sees the UV-reflecting pattern - and knows to steer clear of the window.  Other solutions involve the use of fritted (small numerous dots in the glass spaced inches apart) and frosted glass. 

For existing windows there’s a variety of decals, stickers or whole window films that can be applied that are effective in reducing collisions as they eliminate either the transparent or reflective nature of the window pane. You can also apply netting, screening, and vertical strings in front of the window. 

Seatuck is addressing the problem in three ways. First, we are commenting on specific development proposals such as the proposed new entertainment venue at Belmont Race Track, the new nature centers at Hempstead Lake and Jones Beach State Parks, and SUNY Stony Brook’s proposed 100,000 square foot Engineering Building, urging project sponsors to use bird friendly glass. Second, we are consulting with some building managers and owners on steps they can take to reduce bird strikes at their facilities including one middle school in a Suffolk County School District. Lastly, we are working with state lawmakers and key bird conservation groups such as the American Bird Conservancy, NYC and NYS Audubon, to introduce (and adopt!!) state legislation mandating bird friendly windows in new construction, and to provide financial incentives and state environmental funds to retrofit existing problematic buildings. 

If you have  a problem with birds flying into the picture windows or patio doors of your home you can install decals on the window exterior to solve the problem. Contact John Turner at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.         

Seatuck submitted the following comment letter on the US Federal government proposed rule changes for the Endangered Species Act.

 

September 24, 2018

Re: Proposed Changes to Endangered Species Act Rules

The Seatuck Environmental Association is a member-supported, non-profit organization that works to advance the conservation of wildlife on Long Island, New York. Since incorporating in 1989 Seatuck has worked--through advocacy, education and research--to protect and conserve Long Island wildlife and the natural habitats on which they depend. On behalf of our thousands of members and supporters, we write to express our opposition to the proposed rule changes under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The benefits of the Endangered Species Act have been prominent in the minds of Long Islanders in recent years as the heralded recovery of the American Bald Eagle, underway since the 1970s, has recently reached our shores. People across the region have been surprised and heartened over the past decade as eagles have extended their range to Long Island. With now nearly a dozen nesting pairs across the island, people of all ages are celebrating the return of the stately raptors. And they are grateful for the ESA’s protections that have safeguarded the bird’s population and allowed for such a robust recovery since the banning of DDT.
Even more recently, Long Island has been abuzz with increasingly common sightings of Humpback Whales. These majestic marine mammals have captivated the attention of people across the region as they have become regular visitors to our nearshore waters. The recovery of Humpbacks--made possible by the ESA--has not only inspired everyone from grade school students to nature photographers, but also been a boon to tour boat operators and the local tourist economy.
These are two ESA success stories that have directly impacted Long Island, but there are many more. We commend the Services for these results and urge them to build upon this legacy of success and to refrain from undermining a program that has achieved significant results for wildlife conservation and has earned the respect and gratitude of the American people. We suggest, as the old adage goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
In addition, we highlight three specific concerns. First, we are gravely concerned about the effort to restrict consideration of the “foreseeable future” when making listing decisions. While it might make sense for the Services to avoid “speculating as to what is hypothetically possible,” it is absurd to ignore what science tells us is very likely, especially with regard to the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. Long Islanders, like all Americans living on the coast, know all too well that sea level rise isn’t some distant, hypothetical threat; rather, it is something that is already impacting people’s lives, as well as the wildlife and natural habitats upon which our coastal communities depend. Consideration of these impacts is not useless speculation, but exactly the kind of long term thinking and planning that has made the ESA a success and that is even more critical in an era of rising seas. 
Second, we are troubled by the potential removal of protections for species listed as threatened under the ESA. These species are in dire straits, and in most cases the factors leading to their decline are worsening, not improving. Further delay in implementing the ESA’s full protections may put them past the point of no return, making last-minute efforts to save their populations futile and hopeless.
Finally, we oppose the proposal to mandate the consideration of economic factors in making listing decisions under the ESA. Determinations about the needs of wildlife should be based on biological criteria and sound science, period. Allowing economic factors to be a part of the process will allow for pressure to protect corporate interests. We urge the Services to make decisions based only on biological criteria and stick to the adage that, in the long run, good environmental policy makes good economic policy. While efforts to safeguard wildlife and ecosystem health may occasionally have impacts on narrow, short-term economic interests, our national interests are better served over the long term when ecosystems are healthy and wildlife populations robust.
We appreciate this opportunity to comment on the proposed changes. We urge the Services to reverse course on these ill-considered proposals and to instead protect the Endangered Species Act.

Sincerely,

Maureen Dunn
Water Quality Scientist
Seatuck Environmental Association
Enrico Nardone
Executive Director
Seatuck Environmental Association

H4H logo capture  oyster center captureseatuck logo capture

 

Purpose:

             We at Seatuck have initiateed a pilot program to collect waste Oyster shells from local restaurants and to use those shells to enhance the bottom sediment of the Great South Bayto allow for the reintroduction of native eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) populations.

 

Background:

In the mid-1890’s Long Islands South Shore was known as the “oyster capital” of the world. Blue Point Oysters were considered of the finest quality and were in the highest demand by consumers.  However, by 1920’s they were decimated, mostly due to water pollution and over harvesting, efforts to restore the wild populations were dashed after the 1938 hurricane covered the living reefs with silt and sand and introduced the predatory, oyster drill. With historical oyster reefs silted over, juvenile oyster spat were left without a hard bottom or substrate, for settlement, so they perished. A resurgence of the oyster culture industry in the 1990’s was plagued with setbacks from disease (MSX). Today, the oyster industry is returning to the Bay. A number of oyster aquaculture businesses have recently opened. In towns such as Islip, the number of lease agreements, to small, local aquaculture operations, has been rising to include an increasingly larger portion of bay bottom.

Although the recent dramatic increase in oyster aquaculture has benefitted the oyster farmer it has not helped the lost native oyster populations. Unlike farmed oysters which are harvested at a young age, native oysters are allowed to grow to full maturity and may live as long as 30 years. In this way, wild populations develop disease resistance and create massive underwater reefs. Wild oysters are available for harvest through recreational fishing.  They also contain a unique genetic makeup available for future restocking.

When supplied with the proper substrate, native, wild oysters will thrive. The best and most natural way to supply substrate is to return oyster shells, a natural resource, to the Bay. In this way we can restore the world famous oyster populations and the vital ecosystem we all depend on. The benefits and ecosystem services this project provides are listed below:

 

  1.  Provide Enhanced Water Quality and Clarity It is well know that Oysters consume microscopic algae called phytoplankton and thus have a clarifying effect on seawater. Improved water clarity promotes eelgrass growth. In addition, the removal of harmful phytoplankton decreases the likelihood of harmful algal blooms, such as Brown and Rust Tides.
  2. Provide Habitat for Wild Oyster RestorationIn the Great South Bay and other South Shore bays, wild oysters are limited by the existence of the available hard bottom substrate they require for attachment. Enhancing wild oyster stock is as basic as providing them with oyster shells, the hard substrate they would naturally find in theirWhen oysters are raised in aquaculture the shells are removed from the ecosystem at harvest. Wild oysters are important for the natural resistance to disease and genetic diversity they possess.
  3.  Regulating Nitrogen Pollution Oysters grow very well in nitrogen rich, eutrophicThey remove nitrogen from seawater by consuming phytoplankton that have the ability to incorporate nitrate. At harvest time, the farmed oysters are removed from the environment. The consumption of wild oysters by transient wildlife also serves to rid the local environment of excess nitrogen, albeit at a smaller scale than aquaculture.
  4.  Reduce LandfillRecycling oysters shells reduces the amount of costly waste delivered to the landfill.
  5. Shoreline StabilizationOyster shells may be used alone to stabilize eroding shorelines in salt marshes (such as Seatuck NWR) or in a reef building process in conjunction with a reintroduction of liveOyster reefs mitigate the damaging wave effects of severe storms and hurricanes. As sea level rises at an ever-accelerating rate, we must facilitate the survival of our shoreline.
  6. Mitigate Coastal AcidificationIn addition to ocean acidification, Coastal acidification is occurring here in our bays and presents a significant threat to this environment. Ocean acidification, caused by a higher concentration of CO2 gas in the atmosphere becoming dissolved on to theThe addition of CO2 alters the water chemistry and decreases the pH of the ocean water.  Coastal regions experience an additional decrease in pH, which occurs when bacteria in the sediments decompose excessive algae growth. The bacteria use oxygen and produce CO2 as they respire. This coastal increased CO2 lowers the pH further, exacerbating the problem. The calcium carbonate of dead, recycled oyster shells allows for a buffering effect of coastal acidification (Waldbusser et.al,[1] 2013).  Shells act like an antacid as they partially dissolve. If allowed to increase, coastal acidification will make an inhospitable environment for all shellfish. Young oysters are especially sensitive to slight pH changes. Coastal acidification is a serious problem that must be addressed.
  7. Provide MesohabitatAlthough oyster aquaculture structures provide habitat for small fish, shrimp and juvenile crustaceans, that habitat is ephemeral and is removed at harvest time. Wild oyster reefs, in contrast, provide a long time, mesohabitat for these creatures.
  8. Carbon sinkShells are made of calcium carbonate and if burned in a landfill, emit carbon to the atmosphere however when bound together in an oyster reef serve as a carbon sink.
  9. Community Involvement and EducationThis project relies heavily on active volunteers willing to pick up shell buckets from participatingIn the process it alsoeducates volunteers and the general public regarding the fragile nature of the ecosystem.  Previously, other states have used the spat-on-shell rearing process as an education tool, allowing school groups , 4-H groups and Citizen Science to raise oysters in classroom tanks.
  10. Tourism and Cultural HistoryTourism is vital to the economic growth of theFresh oysters are a delicacy and prized commodity that provide economic enrichment.  The South Shore of Long Island is rich in maritime culture; an attribute that attracts tourists and increases our quality of life.  As we experience a renaissance of the oyster industry we must be aware of the many ways these shellfish provide for us. This time, we get to give back to the Bays that provide us with so much

 

[1] Waldbusser, G.G., E.N. Powell, and R. Mann. 2013. Ecosystem effects of shell aggregations and cycling in coastal waters: An example of Chesapeake Bay oyster reefs. Ecology 94:895–903,  http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/12-1179.1.

 

By: Maureen Dunn

Download -> 10 Reasons for Oyster Shell Recycling

One of the priority open space areas the Seatuck Environmental Association has been advocating protection of is “Hauppauge Springs”, a 42-acre area on the south side of Veterans Memorial Highway across from the Suffolk County Center.

The area gets its name because of the water which “springs” or bubbles up from the aquifer here, beginning a surface flow that becomes the Nissequogue River. Thus, the Hauppauge Springs forms part of one of the headwaters to the Nissequogue River (the other is in the Village of the Branch to the east). The area contains extensive freshwater wetlands including two small ponds, and a stream that flows under the highway into Blydenburgh County Park. A rare stand of Atlantic White Cedar, a rare tree that grows in wet areas, flanks the western side of the eastern pond.

The recent County acquisitions complete an open space preservation effort that began several decades ago with the Town of Smithtown purchasing the western most two parcels. The County then purchased the easternmost property and over the past two years the County acquired two road-front properties and a narrow north-south oriented parcel sandwiched in between the road front properties, consolidating public ownership in the area (see map). This last parcel was slated to be developed with eight homes which would have adversely affected water quality in the river. Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk County Legislator Leslie Kennedy played key roles in preserving the properties.

Janice Bradt, the former owner of the two road-front properties grew up on the property. At that time much of the area was farmland, and her farm was known as Sweetwater Farm due to the purity of the water bubbling up from the ground. The purchase by the County honored Janice’s parents with a sign along Veterans Memorial Highway (see photo). Seasick assisted in this acquisition, in addition to advocating for the purchase at the Suffolk County Legislature hearings, by conducting a clean-up of the property along with Legislator Kennedy.

Seatuck is advocating for two more protection measures in the Hauppauge Springs area. There is a five acre parcel, part of the Suffolk County Center, that is adjacent to Blydenburgh County Park. It is entirely wooded and the eastern boundary is the stream that flows from Hauppauge Springs. We are advocating that this property be annexed from the County Center and added to the Park. We also want to see the forested swampland around the NY State Office Building be given permanent protective status.

We will keep you apprised of additional progress we make in preserving this special and environmentally important part of Suffolk County. 

 

John Turner -  Seatuck Conservation Policy Advocate

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Seatuck sent a copy of the following letter to every New York Senate Member, urging each to support the proposed legislation (Bill S8170) banning household use of high nitrogen fertilizer. 

 
 
 April 16, 2018                                             
 
New York State Senators
 Albany, New York 12247

 

Re: Letter Supporting Long Island Fertilizer Legislation A10276 and S8170

Dear Legislator:

Seatuck Environmental Association, Inc. (“Seatuck”) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of Long Island wildlife and the natural environment on which they depend.  Incorporated in 1989, the organization advocates for conservation policy across Long Island and operates two coastal, public nature centers: the Suffolk County Environmental Center in Islip, where Seatuck is based, and the South Shore Nature Center in East Islip. 

We at Seatuck urge our New York Legislators to support bills A10276 and S8170 that serve to amend the New York State Environmental Conservation Law to reduce the use of water-soluble, high nitrogen fertilizers on Long Island.  The laws exclusively allows for the sale of low-nitrogen fertilizer (at most 12% nitrogen, half of which must be, less soluble, “slow release”) and prohibits the sale of high nitrogen fertilizer effective December 31,2019.  

We cannot wait any longer to fix this problem. Nitrogen in the form of water-soluble nitrate is known on Long Island as public water quality Enemy Number One. 1 The destructive cycle begins as nitrate enters our groundwater and waterways from untreated treated septic wastewater and fertilizer runoff; with fertilizer accounting for as much as 77% of the input in some eastern, agricultural Long Island areas 2.  High levels of nitrogen have been measured in our groundwater, bays and drinking water.  Efforts to decrease the concentration of fertilizer-derived nitrogen are in effect, however, thus far, compliance is low and enforcement difficult. 

Both Nassau and Suffolk counties derive their drinking water from the sole-source glacial aquifer beneath the ground.  Average nitrate levels in the deep Magothy Aquifer increased from 1.14 to 3.43 mg/L from 1987 to 2005 and continue to worsen.1 The EPA’s maximum contaminant level for nitrate in potable groundwater is set at 10 mg/L in an effort to protect against blue-baby syndrome (methemoglobinemia), a deadly side effect of babies consuming formula prepared with water high in nitrogen. In adults, consuming this water can lead to decreased thyroid function, spontaneous abortions brain damage and cancer.3   Generally Long island drinking water meets quality standards, however, a small percent of wells in Nassau and Suffolk Counties exceed the 10 mg per liter of nitrogen as nitrate and must be capped or treated when found. 

The problem is much worse when considering the environmental effects of elevated nitrate in our surface streams, ponds and coastal waters.  The effects of nitrogen pollution are more harmful to wildlife than humans. At levels as low as 2.5mg/L nitrate impairs water quality for wildlife.4 This decrease in water quality is mostly created through the overgrowth of algae. 

Algae, similar to plants, thrive on high levels of dissolved nitrate in the water column. Most grow uncontrollably as a “bloom” whereby they shade all other plant life at depth.  Eelgrass is particularly susceptible and perishes in diminished light. Coastal salt marsh grasses will reallocate resources under excess nitrate, diverting energy away from the stabilizing root mass and towards the leaf blades.  The loss of eelgrass and marsh grass root mass is catastrophic because in addition to serving as vital habitat, these grasses dissipate ocean wave energy, thus shielding us from destructive storms. Some of the algae that bloom are toxic when consumed by marine life such as snails, terrapin and shellfish and lead to massive die-offs of these creatures.

As local water quality diminishes, animal such as fish, crustacean and invertebrates must leave the area or perish. Upon cessation of the algal bloom, bacteria begin to consume the dead algae in much the same way as animals use food and oxygen to create energy.  Often times, the bacteria use up all of the oxygen in the water leaving the water anoxic. The loss of oxygen changes the chemical makeup of both water and sediment and is generally lethal to those animals unable to get away.

From a global perspective, it has been shown that nitrogen-based fertilizer is largely responsible for the 20 percent increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide since the Industrial Revolution. 5 Nitrous oxide, third most powerful greenhouse gas, is produced when specialized bacteria convert nitrate in fertilizer to nitrous oxide in the atmosphere.

Beginning as early as 2007, efforts been taken by Long Islanders to reduce fertilizer-derived nitrate in our environment. For example, both Nassau and Suffolk counties have prohibited the application of fertilizer from November to April or within 20 feet of a wetland. 

Most of the bays surrounding Long Island are designated as impaired; that is, they are in violation of water quality standards.6 This proposed ban on water soluble, high nitrogen fertilizer is an important step towards stopping the flow of nitrate to our groundwater and coastal waters.

We applaud Assemblyman Steve Englebright and Senator Kemp Hannon for introducing this legislation and urge you to support the ban on soluble high-nitrogen fertilizer by approving Bill S8170.

We cannot wait any longer to address the fertilizer component of nitrogen pollution on Long Island; the time to act is now.   Thank you.

 

 

Sincerely,

Maureen Dunn
 Water Quality Scientist
 Seatuck Environmental Association

 

Enrico Nardone
 Director
 Seatuck Environmental Association

 

 _______________________________________

 

1. Suffolk County Comprehensive Water Resources management Plan, Executive Summary, 1(2015).  http://www.suffolkcountyny.gov/Portals/0/Documents%20and%20Forms/Health%20Services/environmental%20quality/water%20resources/Comprehensive_Water_Resource_Management_Plan.pdf

2.  Lloyd, S. (2014). Nitrogen load modeling to forty-three subwatersheds of the Peconic Estuary. The Nature Conservancy. Final Report.Rouse, J. D., Bishop, C. A., & Struger, J. (1999). Nitrogen pollution: an assessment of its threat to amphibian survival. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(10), 799–803..

 

 3.  United State Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 10 May 2013. Basic Information about Nitrate in Drinking Water. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-10/documents/ace3_drinking_water.pdf

 

4Rouse, J. D., Bishop, C. A., & Struger, J. (1999). Nitrogen pollution: an assessment of its threat to amphibian survival. Environmental Health Perspectives, 107(10), 799–   803.

 

5. MacFarling-Meure C., Etheridge D., Trudinger C., Steele P., Langenfelds R., van Ommen T., Smith A., Eikins J., (2006). Law Dome CO2, CH4 and N2O ice core records extended to 2000 years BP. Geophys Res. Lett. 33, L14810.

 

6.  Section 303(d) of the Federal Clean Water Act. https://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/water_pdf/305basmtmap10.pdf

 

 

 

Tuesday, 22 May 2018 23:31

TED Comments

August 14, 2017

Kim McKown

 NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Crustacean Unit Leader
205 N Belle Mead Rd, STE 1
East Setauket, NY 11733

Dear Ms. McKown:

The Seatuck Environmental Association, ‘Seatuck’, is a Long Island-based not-for-profit conservation organization whose mission is to preserve native wildlife and the natural communities upon which they depend.  To give focus to this effort Seatuck has developed a “Campaign for Wildlife” designed to safeguard, and in some cases restore, such iconic species as river herring, horseshoe crabs, diamondback terrapins, among others.  I write to you in regard to this last species and the Department’s proposed rule, to take effect January 1, 2018, to require the installation of terrapin excluder devices (TED’s) on commercial crab traps/pots placed in certain waters in New York State (as detailed in a map produced by the Department). Seatuck strongly supports the adoption of this regulation and urges the Department to implement it in a timely fashion.

TED’s have proven to be a highly effective, relatively inexpensive means to reduce drownings of adult and young-adult diamondback terrapins in crab traps, a significant source of mortality to the species. Terrapins enter the trap, attracted to the bait situated there, and being unable to escape unfortunately drown. Seatuck has documented terrapins drowning in crab pots situated in more than a dozen locations throughout Long Island, in some cases traps in these locations containing several individuals each.  It is expected that adoption of this important rule will significantly reduce the number of individual turtles that are able to enter traps, thereby preventing the deaths of countless terrapins, a species that due to its limited reproductive capability can be especially hard hit by the drowning deaths of adult female terrapins. 

In an effort to defray the expense of complying with the proposed rule Seatuck (and the Long Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy) purchased approximately 7,000 plastic and metal TED’s, and several thousand zip ties to attach the TED’s, which were provided to your agency for distribution.  Seatuck may be able to provide an additional number of TED’s and ties to assist the agency in minimizing the financial impact of baymen compliance with the rule prior to and shortly after the regulation has been enacted.

With regard to the proposed regulation, we offer the following observations/ recommendations:

1. We recognize the rule doesn’t cover all of the state’s estuarine environments frequented by diamondback terrapins, such as the main sections of the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, Peconic Bay, and the south shore bays, focusing instead, on the shallower, in-shore areas of these estuaries where terrapins predominantly occur. This compromise (along with providing the above-mentioned TED’s), is designed to respond to the concerns of baymen who note that the deeper open water areas are used much less frequently by terrapins and by not requiring the use of TED’s will allow for the harvest of other commercially valuable species such as whelk. 

2. We recommend that all of Jamaica Bay and not just the streams and creeks which flow into it be included under the rule. We recognize that virtually all of Jamaica Bay is part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, under the jurisdictional authority of the National Park Service, and that commercial crab harvest is not permitted in the area. Nevertheless, terrapins are more abundant here and we believe it makes sense to include the entire Bay area to provide easier enforcement for the DEC as it relates to potential enforcement cases in the many streams and creeks that flow into the Bay.  Similarly, given the shallow nature of Flanders Bay and its productivity as a site for terrapins, we urge that all of this embayment be included within the rule.

3. Seatuck strongly supports the proposed dimensions of the TED’s. The 1 and 3/4-inch-high by 4 and 3/4-inch-wide opening has been proven, through several studies and common practice, to be highly effective at reducing terrapin deaths while having no adverse impact on crab catch. In fact, in some studies, involving TED’s with the same dimensions as proposed for New York, crab catch and CPUE has increased.

4. We support the provision that allows for the DEC to close additional areas upon a finding that mortality to terrapins is unacceptably high.   

5. We urge that the map the Department has prepared, indicating the location of the affected streams, creeks, and embayments, be distributed to all crab license holders, and further recommend the map be of such scale so as to make it as easy and clear as possible for the permit holder and DEC Law Enforcement staff to be fully aware of the line that demarcates the boundary to the stream, creek, and embayment beyond which TED’s are not required and within which they are.    

6. Seatuck strongly urges that the draft regulation be amended to require that all commercial crab traps sold in New York State after the effective date of the regulation be equipped with TED’s. This provision would ensure that the cost of regulation compliance shifts away from the conservation community and toward the manufacturers, and through their trap prices, to the individual users of the traps where it appropriately belongs.   

On behalf of Seatuck I appreciate the opportunity to provide these observations and comments on this important rule and we hope the Department adopts it in a timely fashion so that it may take effect January 1, 2018 and terrapins can be afforded the additional protection the rule provides and the species deserves.  

Sincerely,

John L. Turner

Conservation Policy Advocate

Seatuck Environmental Association 

Friday, 16 February 2018 23:15

New 2018 Plastic Bag Law

On January 1, 2018, a new Suffolk County Law took effect that establishes a 5-cent fee on disposable bags used at stores in Suffolk County. The fee’s purpose is to provide a financial incentive to motivate customers to move away from single-use paper and plastic bags and towards sturdy multi-use bags. These durable bags, which are made from a variety of materials such as cloth, heavy plastic, canvas and netting, can be used hundreds of times before wearing out. The reduction of single-use bags will not only save energy and reduce pressure on landfills and incinerators, it will also significantly reduce adverse impacts to wildlife and help clean up waterways, roadsides and parklands. 

Many other countries, states, and local municipalities have enacted identical or similar bans over the past decade. Those that have been in place for several years have met or exceed their goals of reducing plastic bag use and curbing the proliferation of plastic in the natural environment. On Long Island, the City of Long Beach and the Villages of Patchogue and Southampton have recently enacted measures designed to curtail single-use bags.

CleanUpBags

Seatuck Environmenal Association’s strong support for the laws stems from an awareness of the pernicious impact that plastics have on the natural world, and the need to alter the throwaway mindset that pervades our collective lifestyles. Plastic bags are, of course, only part of the problem. But they symbolize a society that, in too many ways, is simply unsustainable over the long-term and which does not reflect an understanding of the fragility of the earth’s natural systems on which we rely. The proliferation of plastic bags in the environment is one piece of the problem that we can solve. 

The adverse effects of intact plastic bags to wildlife are well documented. We have all seen images of sea turtles and marine mammals that have ingested them (thinking they’re sea jellies), or fish and birds that have become entangled with plastic bags, often with fatal results. Arguably even more problematic, however, is the effect from the countless small plastic pieces that are produced as plastic bags break apart in the open environment. 

Polyethylene, from which plastic bags are made, does not biodegrade in the natural environment. Bacteria and other microbes don’t consume plastic or break it down into its component parts. Instead, the sun breaks down polyethylene through a process called photodegradation. In this process, ultraviolet light causes the long polymer strands in polyethylene to become brittle and crack, breaking plastic bags down into smaller and smaller pieces. It doesn’t eliminate plastic; rather, it degrades it down into increasingly small pieces that “disappear” into the natural environment. These microplastics persist everywhere and can have a devastating impact on wildlife.

As they are ingested by wildlife they negatively affect physiology and health. Chemicals added to plastic during manufacturing or absorbed from the surrounding environment can be transferred to wildlife after ingestion and cause a host of additional problems. At the smallest size, these microplastics are capable of crossing cell membranes and causing direct tissue damage. 

Scientists fear that the buildup of microplastics in marine and terrestrial environments—and in the stomachs and bodily tissues of wildlife—portends a bleak future in which plastic particles infiltrating every step of the food chain. A plastic bag might disappear in 10 to 100 years if exposed to the sun, but its damaging environmental legacy may last forever.

We urge Suffolk County residents to “go green” in 2018 by embracing this new law and the important goals it seeks to promote. It may take some effort at first to break the plastic bag habit, but over time using reusable bags will become second nature – you’ll reflexively reach for them every time you head to the store. To get started, build up your reusable bag collection so they’re handy when you need them. Hang some by the front door. Keep a few in your car. Give bags out as gifts! Whatever it takes to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags and help turn the tide on plastics! Over time, our aquatic and terrestrial habitats will be safer for wildlife and our parks and roadsides will be cleaner!

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