On Friday, October 20th at Save The Great South Bay’s quarterly Speaker Series, Dr. Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences gave his 4th annual State of the Bay presentation, this year including all of the South Shore bays this year from Hempstead to Shinnecock.

The Summer 2023 Long Island Water Quality Impairment map was a telling visual of the harmful environmental events that occurred over the past few months. These include a variety of harmful algal blooms (HABs aka Brown Tide, Mahogany Tide, Red Tide, …), oxygen-starved, dead zones, and fish and turtles kills.  The main cause of these disturbing trends is excessive nitrogen from outdated cesspools.

“This was the worse year for harmful algal blooms on Long Island, ever,” said Dr. Christopher Gobler, Professor of Stony Brook University.

Gobler explained that multiple shellfish closures, encompassing thousands of acres of bay bottom, were closed this summer due to Alexandrium, a saxitoxin that causes human health issues. Additionally, Moriches Bay was closed from May into summer due to a bloom of Dinophysis which contains okadaic acid, a gastrointestinal toxin known to be harmful to humans as well as marine life. This 2023 bloom set worldwide records for density.

Furthermore, a new HAB, Pseudo-nitzschia, was detected in the south shore bays from Islip to Quogue. This HAB contains a neurotoxin that triggers amnesic shellfish poisoning. It also produces the toxin domoic acid which represents a new public health threat.

“This algal toxin has never been seen in Long Island waters and has had significant mortality effects on marine mammal on the west coast.  Its high density in regions that had been previously flushed by the New Inlet (in Bellport) that closed in 2023 suggests that, in addition, to excessive nitrogen loads, poor flushing contributed to this event.”, said Gobler.

View the full presentation on YouTube here.

The 2023 water quality impairment map portrays 10+ distinct low oxygen ‘dead zones’ across the south shore of Long Island. All marine life needs oxygen to survive and as a result of the hypoxia, we saw multiple large-scale fish kills this summer.

Dr. Gobler explained that excessive nitrogen coming from household sewage seeps into groundwater and ultimately, into bays, harbors, and estuaries or, in some cases, is directly discharged into surface waters. This produces algal blooms that can, in turn, remove oxygen from bottom waters as they decay.  Suffolk County has recently completed the Clean Water Plan (aka the Subwatersheds Wastewater Plan) that identified outdated cesspools as the primary culprit to the nitrogen overload in surface waters. This plan outlines a scientific, data-driven plan to combat excess nitrogen through the increased use of sewers and updating cesspools to more efficient units where sewers are not feasible.

For more information, View the full presentation on YouTube here.

We thank Dr. Gobler whole heartedly for his informative presentation on the current state of the South Shore Bays. Our work must continue to improve water quality to maintain life as we have known it here on Long Island.

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