Why is SCERP’s (and Professor Christopher Gobler’s) research so important? Because they are investigating the causes of algal blooms all around Long Island and the world. Over the past 30 years, algal blooms have been growing in frequency, intensity, and variety at an alarming rate all around Long Island — In Shinnecock, Peconic, and Moriches Bays, in Northport Bay, in The Great South Bay, and elsewhere. Long Island’s brown tide intensities have set world records in terms of cells per milliliter. Here’s a current map of brown tide cell counts on Long Island — in The Great South Bay and Moriches Bay. Anything over 100,000 per milliliter is a problem.
Why is brown tide harmful? It blocks sunlight, killing eelgrass, destroying shellfish and finfish habitats.
It was brown tide that wiped out the scallops in Peconic Bay starting in 1985 by destroying their spawning grounds. It is brown tide now that is ravaging The Great South Bay. Here is a graphic shot of brown tide in the eastern part of The Great South Bay, around where you see the cell count of 97,000.
Here, opposite The New Inlet / breach, is by far the clearest area in the bay, a place where the cell count is 1/10th of what it is elsewhere. This tells you just how severe and massive this brown tide is. What will be left after it finally dissipates, perhaps in a couple of weeks? We are not looking forward to assessing the damage that this environmental disaster will cause. We are, though, looking forward to doing everything we can to prevent future blooms. Given current trends, according to SCERP, we can expect things to continue to worsen unless action is taken.
The reason, according to SCERP’s groundbreaking research on algal blooms, is that Long Island’s are being fueled to a large measure by the 500,000 septic tanks and by various antiquated — or in the case of Bay Park, damaged — sewage treatment plants large and small throughout Long Island. Nitrogenous waste from these septic tanks and facilities has seeped deep into our groundwater and is threatening our drinking water. As the groundwater seeps into our bays, rivers, and ponds, or pours in as runoff after heavy rains, as it has of late, it fuels these massive blooms.
Long Island’s population grew from 2,000,000 in 1910 to 7.5 million in 2010. If Nassau and Suffolk were a country, it would be the fourth most densely populated, behind Bangladesh. Needless to say, our sewage infrastructure, like much of Long Island’s infrastructure — rail, road, electrical — have not kept up. This latest brown tide bloom for instance is quite pronounced off Babylon, where 30% of the nitrogenous waste entering the bay comes from. While much of Babylon is on the sewer system, much is not, so that during this last month of rain various rivers and streams deposited that polluted ground water right into the bay.
The problem, we can all agree, is massive. 500,000 septic tanks! The ground water already contaminated by decades of seepage, and that water will eventually enter into some bay somewhere on Long Island – in The Peconic, The Shinnecock, Moriches, Northport, Oyster, or Great South Bays — to become the fuel for these devastating blooms. Again, it is thanks to SCERP that we know this, can prove that nitrogenous waste is the main issue facing our waters and other waters around the world. It all comes down to poor sewage treatment. No cures without diagnoses!
Knowing now the task at hand, we have no choice but to take it on. To say this problem is too big is to say Long Island has no future. Without clean water, we have no bays, rivers, and ponds worth having. Without clean water, what do we drink, bathe in, or wash with? In the end, it is up to us to act responsibly on the conclusions of SCERP’s research. The very first step we can take in that is to make sure everyone on Long Island is familiar with their work and their conclusions. Tell your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. We must move from knowledge to awareness to action if we are to preserve Long Island and its waters for future generations. Make no mistake – this problem will cost billions to fix. Eco friendly septic tanks and toilets would need to be deployed throughout Nassau and Suffolk. Sewage treatment plants would need to be modernized and rebuilt. With the total value of Long Island real estate easily in the hundreds of billions of dollars, one would think the infrastructure investment would be worth it.