Hi, I am Marshall Brown, Founder of Save The Great South Bay. I want to first thank The Freeport Tuna Club for the invitation to speak before you. The FTC has been around a long time, whereas we only began last August. We began because as we gathered for a Sayville High School Reunion, all we could talk about the whole evening was what had happened to the bay, and what we could do to fix it. We want our children and grandchildren to fish, clam, swim and boat in these waters just as we had, a goal that I am sure you share. If you want to fix a bay, who do you speak with? Well there’s The Peconic Bay Keeper for one, The Nature Conservancy for another, The Citizen’s Campaign For The Environment, Operation Splash!, Seatuck (which just successfully had installed fish ladders on The Carll’s River — more on that later), Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, and further afield, other local non-profits around the country like Santa Monica’s Heal The Bay, and The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We all face the same challenge — how do you revitalize bays and the estuaries that feed them given all the environmental insults we have inflicted upon them — septic tank seepage, lawn fertilizers, outfall pipes, pesticides, the over harvesting of shellfish, overdevelopment, the destruction of habitats. How do we make our waters sustainable, given the multiple threats these waters face?
I am a great believer in two things — science, and the power of local communities. In Save The Great South Bay, we have brought the two together. We have as of today 663 group members on Facebook — marine biologists from a number of non-profits and academic institutions, locals, present and former, from the dozens of communities that ring The Great South Bay, baymen, fishermen, sailors, people invested in the preservation of a way of life that is threatened as much as the wildlife we cherish — the bluefish, the weakfish, the stripers, the eels, the alewife, the flounder. The marine biologists we have in our group can both diagnose the problems the bay and its estuaries face, and propose solutions to those problems. In the end, however, it has to be up to the individual communities to address the problems and implement the solutions. I have seen first hand in the short time that my organization has existed what happens when the passion of scientists and environmentalists is combined with the local passion people have for the environments in their communities, how if you present to local people what science says the problems and solutions are, the locals will readily fight to make it right.
A case in point is Seatuck’s work in Babylon to install fish ladders for The Carll’s River. Without local action, through Seatuck, but involving The Village of Babylon, their department of public works and their mayor Ralph Scordino, nothing would have happened. But happen it did. Their initiative caught the attention and support both of the DEC — The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and NOAA — The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration — and with that the local was joined by the state and the federal. Net result — The Carll’s River, blocked at Argyle Lake for over 100 years, will see alewife spawning in its waters, as will the waters north of it that feed it.
But now how many more times can this success be replicated. I ask the assembled here — what other dams are in need of taking down? How much more habitat needs to be restored to bring back the alewife in numbers, and with them the larger game fish that feed on them? How much more red tape needs to be cut so that our waters can once again teem with life? How many people in our shore communities right no have no idea what is at stake, how many are unaware that there are even dams — ancient dams — all around them? What would it mean for Long Island’s estuaries and fish population if we insisted — in every community along the Great South Bay — that we wanted our waters back and healthy? A lot of work that needs to be done, educationally, politically. I can tell you that in the town of Sayville, where I am from originally, there are a couple of dams north of Brown’s River — one on Mill Pond, and one on Lotus Lake — that need to go. But under whose jurisdictions are these dams? Both lakes are well on their way to dying, and since we don’t have mills any more, should be returned to the streams they were, but try telling that to the homeowners with lake shore property, even if that means less each year as the lakes fill with vegetation, offering nothing for fish or fishermen or swimmers, boaters, or the wildlife itself?
For us to truly go about the restoration of The Great South Bay and its estuaries, we need a complete inventory of all the dams, all the hundreds upon hundreds of outfall pipes that feed storm run off into our streams, all the locations that treat our sewage. Put all this information on an interactive map on a web site, on Savethegreatsouthbay.org, let the public add whatever local information they can these locations and others they identify. From that one web page, we could educate the public, community by community, as to what is polluting the bays and rivers, and how each town and each individual could assist in making their community more eco-friendly, more supportive of its waters and the wildlife that inhabits it.
Save The Great South Bay has as its mission to bring together all the various organizations that touch the bay, and all the groups that know it — the scientists, the baymen, the boaters and swimmers. From this coalition, with all the collective knowledge we have, we believe we can inform all Long Islanders of the problems and the solutions, and build a future for Long Island which honors its past. Recently, ‘the breach,’ or as we prefer to call it The New Inlet, has offered a glimpse of what was, and what could be again. It was the one new inlet created by Hurricane Sandy that could not be immediately closed by The Army Corps of Engineers because it happened on National Park Service land, in the Otis Pike Wilderness Area, about two miles west of Smith Point, across from Bellport Bay. Here is a classic case of politics versus science, of the local versus the state. Certain politicians early on, most notably Charles Schumer and Steve Bellone, called for “The Breach” to be closed. On the other side were the many marine biologists who’ve been unanimous in their data driven conclusion — The Breach was not contributing to flooding in any measurable way — as well as the thousands of locals who know the bay and know what it needs to recover from their lived experiences. There has immense pressure to close it, even given the fact that the science was showing, from mid November on that The Breach was flushing the eastern part of The Great South Bay of nitrogen, the water was clearing, and life was returning to a bay long poisoned by septic tank seepage and increasingly menaced by toxic algal blooms that were killing off everything — the eelgrass, the shellfish, and the fish as well. It has been particularly disappointing how little interest the politicians have shown in science or in local will, as they’ve cynically pitted flooded out home owners against those who called for The Breach to be let alone. Save The Great South Bay stands with those flooded out, with those living in flood prone areas who need to have their homes raised, who need to be bought out and made whole in those cases where there are neighborhoods we can no longer feasibly defend. We hear no such calls for their relief from the very politicians who want the breach closed, for reasons I care not to speculate on here in this public forum.
To defend our bays and waters, we need to spend this summer photographing, videoing, documenting just what is happening in the bay so that all Long Islanders, and people all over the country and the world can see for themselves. I want to hear from all of you on this — there’s bay bottom now not seen in 20 years or more, fish and wildlife, long absent now returned. Show people that, then they will care. The Inlet will close soon enough, whether by nature or bureaucratic force. Where will that leave us? That’s up to us. We are seeing what could be. Let’s show people that. Let’s grab that future, for us and the generations to come.
I am setting up a page for a dozen or so organizations on stgsborg.wpengine.com so that each can post their pics, videos, docs. From the site, all this material can be sent out across Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. Just have me speak with your best writers, photographers, and videographers, and I will give them a platform to broadcast your message. Make the prospect of a new bay real to people, and we have a chance to actually make it happen. I look forward to working with The Freeport Tuna Club in this, and with all the organizations that hold Long Island’s waters and wildlife dear.