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May 6, 2009 10:57 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Mosquito ditch study pointing to pollution receives international support

May 6, 2009 10:57 AM

A scientific study by two Stony Brook University marine scientists on the impact of mosquito ditches on water quality in the East End’s bays—one that directly contradicts a similar study contracted by Suffolk County’s mosquito control agency—was published in an international peer-reviewed scientific journal last month.

The study’s acceptance for publication in Estuaries and Coasts, the journal of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation, means numerous international scientists found the results of the work by the local researchers to be convincing.

“That means it passed the scientific sniff test,” Christopher Gobler, Ph.D., the study’s co-author, said last week. “It was blind-reviewed by international scientists around the world. They send in their comments anonymously. They can, and will, be blunt, and they found it to be sound science.”

The study, released by Dr. Gobler and then-doctoral candidate Florian Koch in 2007, found that the mosquito ditches cut into marshes all over Long Island funnel pollutants and bacteria into tidal waterways. The ditches contain high levels of nitrates, organic matter and coliform bacteria, Dr. Gobler said, and could lead to the contamination of shellfish beds nearby and algal blooms that can starve estuaries of oxygen.

The study was roundly criticized by county officials, who have been locked in a legal battle with the Peconic Baykeeper organization for more than four years over their annual efforts to control mosquito populations. The county challenged the study as being unfounded and issued their own study that countered the findings that the mosquito ditches were conduits for pollutants.

Dr. Gobler said he feels vindicated by the acceptance of his and Mr. Koch’s study by the international scientific community.

A call to the county’s Vector Control offices seeking comment was not returned.

Most of Long Island’s tidal marshes are divided into vast checkerboard grids by mosquito drains—long narrow trenches dug deliberately into the spongy peat-root masses of the marsh. They were cut by hand in the 1930s to drain off water that flooded onto the marshes during high tides on the premise that, if the water drained off quickly, it would deprive mosquitoes of the pools of standing water they breed in.

Environmental organizations, most notably Kevin McAllister, head of the Peconic Baykeeper program, have assailed county insistence that the ditches are an important tool to keeping mosquito populations at bay. Mr. McAllister has said the ditches actually inhibit natural mosquito control and he has repeatedly called for the ditches to be actively filled in or allowed to fill with silt naturally. East Hampton Town, shirking county policies, has undertaken an effort to dam off the ditches in its salt marshes.

“They had malaria back then, so it was a serious health concern,” Dr. Gobler said this week. “But they didn’t do the job on the mosquito front, and now we know that they’re harming water quality. But the county still is resistant to filling them or allowing them to be filled in.”

michael wright

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Congratulations to the Baykeeper again for having the facts right. If the County and our own Trustees listened more carefully to what the Baykeeper had to say he would not have to waste so much money and effort on lawsuits.
By Bayman (56), Hampton Bays on May 12, 09 1:46 PM