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Jun 26, 2012 9:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Brown Tide Chokes Western Shinnecock Bay

Jun 27, 2012 10:34 AM

A destructive “brown tide” algae bloom has once again swept across western Shinnecock Bay, the Quogue Canal and eastern Moriches Bay, and this year’s occurrence appears to be approaching levels not seen since the devastating succession of blooms that nearly wiped out shellfish stocks in the 1980s and 1990s.

The brown tide began building in May, gradually staining the waters west of the Ponquogue Bridge a dingy brown. In recent weeks, the bloom has flourished, and densities of the algae cells may have already surpassed levels seen last year, the worst since the 1990s, according to scientists who have been observing the growing bloom.

“We’ve got a wickedly dense brown tide in Shinnecock Bay,” said Dr. Chris Gobler, a marine science professor at Stony Brook University and an expert on harmful algal blooms. “We’re seeing hundreds of thousands of cells per milliliter, on par with the really bad years. Last year, we got to two million parts per milliliter, and we’ll be doing testing this week—we’ll see if it’s over that this year. You can just see it, though. It’s thick.”

The brown tide blooms, which are not harmful to humans, first appeared in local waters in 1985, turning the waters of nearly every tidal bay and creek on the East End coffee brown. The density of the algae, which shellfish will not ingest as they do most other algae species, starved shellfish and cut off sunlight to aquatic plants. After several years of the choking brown tide blooms, the area’s once prodigious bay scallop populations finally collapsed in 1995 and have yet to return to even a shadow of their former abundance.

This year’s brown tide, appears just as concerns about another algae bloom—a “red tide,” for the reddish color of its individual cells—was fading out. The red tide organism, known as Alexandrium, has caused the closure of shellfish harvesting in all of western Shinnecock because the cells produce a biotoxin that can be harmful or even fatal to humans.

Dr. Gobler said the pattern in western Shinnecock has been that the brown tide will reach its peak in late June and early July, and then begin to wane, fading away in August as water temperatures reach into the mid- to upper-70 degree mark in the bay. In some years, it has returned in September as waters cooled again.

Regardless, the tide’s persistence in western Shinnecock Bay and eastern Moriches Bay, while largely absent from most other East End waters since 1995, is just another sign of the poor state of water quality in the bay.

“It’s sad to say, but this is business as usual for this water body,” Dr. Gobler lamented. “Since 2007, it’s been there every year. What’s special will be when it doesn’t occur.”

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Noticeable Coffee color when we were out on Moriches bay on Sunday. Even as far West as Pikes. Story comes as no surprise. Save the bays!
By rburger (82), Remsenburg on Jun 26, 12 2:33 PM
As I recall, the first brown tides appeared shortly after the Riverhead sewage treatment center was built. We were also made to keep boats to "no wake" speeds within 200 feet of shore around that time. I do wonder if the aeration from small boat use kept the blooms within reasonable limits prior to that, or if the sewage treatment plant had anything to do with introducing brown tide to the region.
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jun 26, 12 3:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
Even worse that we've grown to accept the brown tides as "normal." They didn't used to be. It used to be that the waters here were so clear you could see the bottom of the bays for quite a distance out from the shore.
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jun 26, 12 3:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yes, as an aside, the brown water gets pulled toward the inlets with the outgoing tide. It seems it gets as far west as Pikes area on the Moriches side and well east of the Ponquogue Bridge on the Shinnecock side. Dr. Gobler said he'd actually heard from people who said it was getting washed out the inlet on one recent day.
By Michael Wright (25), Southampton on Jun 26, 12 3:50 PM
Too much sewage! Too much pesticides and fertilizers!
By GoldenBoy (351), EastEnd on Jun 26, 12 9:59 PM
Could be a sign of declining shellfish populations in that area. Abundant filter feeder populations keep that kind of stuff in check pretty well. Its like Mother Nature's checks and balances.
By cochise316 (58), southampton on Jun 26, 12 10:21 PM
Cochise, the article was not clear in explaining that the algae particles are too small to be filtered by the feeing mechanisms of the shellfish, thus are unable to be ingested--since the brown tide overwhelms the waters to the point that they are the most abundant organism, the shellfish starve and die off, for lack of available food.
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jun 27, 12 10:05 AM
FEEDING mechanisms, oops.
By M. O'Connor (147), Southampton on Jun 27, 12 10:06 AM

Sewage! And now the developers Rechler want to build more Condos and more sewage by the water on Eastern Shinnecock Bay to make sure East Shinnecock is just as filthy! More housing density on Hampton Bays especially by the water means more algae blooms, more pollution, and more destruction of our clean water.

Vote out any Town Board member who approves the Rechler project.
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Jun 28, 12 12:14 AM