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Apr 11, 2012 9:32 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Western Shinnecock Bay Is Sterile, Thanks To Human Proximity, Scientists Say

Apr 12, 2012 4:38 PM

The whole of western Shinnecock Bay has effectively become a dead zone for shellfish and other marine organisms, according to marine biologists from Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

A variety of shellfish species, many of them placed in the bay specifically with the hope that they would spawn and augment wild populations, are not producing any offspring because the water quality in much of the bay has become too poor to support them during the fragile first weeks of their lives, a report issued by the university’s scientists shows.

At a presentation at the university’s Southampton campus on Friday, Dr. Christopher Gobler and Dr. Brad Peterson will present the findings of a year-long study of the bay, which showed that shellfish spawn are simply not surviving in the bay’s waters.

The scientists are unambiguous about what they believe is at the root of the problem: high nitrogen levels, spurred by pollution of groundwater and tidal areas by septic systems in densely populated neighborhoods within the bay’s watershed.

“I’m not going to pull any punches—there are some major problems,” Dr. Gobler said. “Shinnecock Bay, western Shinnecock Bay in particular, is in deep, deep trouble.”

The report, compiled by Dr. Gobler and Dr. Peterson from a broad range of studies done by the biologists and their graduate and doctoral students at Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, builds on the forboding conclusions of last year’s report, which was the first to lay out a concrete connection between human development within the bay’s watershed and the steadily growing number of harmful afflictions to befall the bay since the 1980s.

The darkest of the revelations from this year’s analyses was evidence that the shellfish that live in the western part of the bay are not reproducing, while their cousins that live east of the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays appear to be reproducing normally.

“We put out bags to collect different types of larval shellfish at a number of sites around the entire bay,” Dr. Gobler said this week. “In the eastern part, we found bay scallops, southern mussels, slipper shells—everything you’d expect. In the western basin of the bay, nothing settled at any of the sites. There were no [larval shellfish] at all. That is a sign that the water quality is very poor.”

Dr. Gobler is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on the devastating marine algal bloom known as “brown tide,” which nearly wiped out the East End’s once prodigious shellfish stocks in the 1980s and 1990s. His doctoral students were the first to discover the organism Alexandrium, a reddish-colored creature that appears in dense blooms known as “red tide” and produces a neurotoxin that can be deadly to humans if ingested in shellfish taken from western Shinnecock last year, prompting state officials to close of all shellfishing from miles of the bay’s waters.

“It turns out that was just the beginning of the fun for Shinnecock Bay,” Dr. Gobler said. “That was May. Then, in June, you had the brown tide come back again. And in August, the other species of red tide [known as cochlodinium]. Obviously, that is not good.”

The state again issued a mandatory embargo on shellfishing in the entire western half of the bay this week after the toxin was once again detected in shellfish there.

In a sprawling report issued last year, Stony Brook scientists showed evidence of direct correlations between the density of residential development in the watershed of tidal bays and increasing instances of harmful algae blooms. Their study, conducted in tidal waters across the entire island, showed a steady increase in water quality problems as one moved to the west, where development grows denser and denser, starting in western Southampton Town’s half-acre zoning districts of Hampton Bays, East Quogue and Westhampton Beach, and progressing to Nassau County’s suburban communities that line the shores of Jamaica Bay and other tidal estuaries.

The primary culprit, the scientists said, is nitrogen, a natural byproduct of human waste, injected into groundwater through septic systems. When residential density gets too great, the high levels of nitrogen that reach tidal waters through seeping groundwater can spark a host of environmental issues.

Quick solutions to the problem simply do not exist, Dr. Gobler said. The fix can only come through a wide range of long-term policy changes and sweeping, costly preventative measures. Moving development out of watersheds entirely, implementing costly upgrades to septic systems, connecting as many houses as possible to municipal sewer systems feeding to sewage treatment facilities, and tightening the reins on development are the only clear steps that can cut down the nitrogen loads, Dr. Gobler said. Preventing more development, on a handful of large vacant parcels in northern East Quogue in particular, also should be a priority, he said.

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Awesome.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Apr 11, 12 10:50 AM
A small price to pay for a perfectly green lawn.
By SHDC (3), Southampton on Apr 11, 12 11:00 AM
2 members liked this comment
Not funny
By shocean (16), Southampton on Apr 11, 12 11:48 AM
2 members liked this comment
Unfortunately it is the mentality of people who have to have the perfectly manicured lawn.
By SHDC (3), Southampton on Apr 11, 12 1:34 PM
1 member liked this comment
I nominate the Ty d Bowl man for town Trustee.
By rburger (82), Remsenburg on Apr 11, 12 11:57 AM
We need an "all of the above" approach to this disaster. Controlling development is the best prevention, and controlling septic systems is the best treatment, but there's another measure that's not mentioned here. It's easy to do, it's no-cost, and it will help a lot. I'm talking about controlling chemical fertilization.

Right now, the Town imposes non-fertilization zones of maybe 50 feet from high water on waterfront property, and then only when someone does the kind of work that needs ...more
By clam pie (161), Westhampton on Apr 11, 12 12:32 PM
"Town Planning". Possibly an oxymoron of sorts through the decades? At least these results are not Love Canal worthy. Well, not for us but for marine life they sure look to be. And, as clam pie reminds us, how can we forget "better living through modern chemistry"? Why use cow, or even horse manure when you can make chemical nitrogen fertilizer out of crude oil? Oh, that's right, because having a lush living room rug for a lawn is important.

You can add acidification to the list ...more
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 11, 12 4:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
How about cutting an new controlled flow inlet to allow some fresh ocean water into Western Shinnecock Bay. Would or could that help?

You have to be realistic that public sewers, homeowners upgrading their septic systems and halting building is not going to happen.

Back to the drawing board.

By BIGjimbo12 (201), East Quogue on Apr 11, 12 11:19 PM
1 member liked this comment
When the ocean blew through the beach in the 80"s at Pike's Beach, the west end on Shinnecock Bay was clean. There was also a good set of hard clams and a great set of steamers. BigJimbo is right on the money in theory. We can hope for another blow through.
By bigfresh (4666), north sea on Apr 12, 12 7:11 AM
1 member liked this comment
The problem with this "theory", which is more of an unproven hypothesis, is that the pollution is an outflow of the water table. Not to be confused with the aquifer, which is far underground. It comes from inland, and leaches into the bay.

No amount of "flushing" from the ocean will make a difference. In fact, years of flushing are what have the bay in this predicament.
Apr 12, 12 7:07 PM appended by Mr. Z
The thought has crossed my mind to introduce diazotrophs into each and every cesspool in HB. Maybe some form of cyanobacteria could do the trick. However, that will not address the current problem, and I'm not even sure it would work.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 12, 12 7:07 PM
The nitrogen is coming from the sewage treatment plant in Riverhead. It spews thousands of alleged gallons of treated waste into the middle of the Peconic River
By chief1 (2800), southampton on Apr 12, 12 8:23 PM
Yeah, and if it manages to flow directly through the canal, and then directly under and past the Ponquogue bridge, it could have an impact. Of course this "magic water" would only flow West, not East.

And later on, monkeys might fly outta' my butt...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Apr 12, 12 8:58 PM
So, how did Kevin McAllister, Peconic Bay Keeper, come up with all this marine life a couple of years ago from western Shinnecock Bay (that would have been endangered) when he was protesting the improvements Docker's wanted to make for to their marina?
By Jaws (245), Westhampton on Apr 15, 12 1:24 AM
dead zones in the oceans dead zones in the bays,all the little yellow "do not enter pesticide apps." on every other lawn. Wow we humans are really destroying our natural resorces at break neck speed. We can always print more money but we cannot print another earth. Its time for us to grow up and demand our elected officials to do what really matters.
By nancys (1), hampton bays on Apr 16, 12 8:26 AM
2 members liked this comment