Reviewed by Beverly C. Tyler
“Between Stony Brook Harbor Tides: The Natural History of a Long Island Pocket Bay” by R. Lawrence Swanson and Malcolm J. Bowman is a recently published book (Nov. 2016) that should be in every school library on Long Island. In addition, for those interested in the history, current conditions and future of our wetlands and waterways, this book is an essential read.
Specifically a book about the Stony Brook Harbor area, it takes a much wider view when considering the factors that have had and continue to have an influence on the harbor. Admirably this is a book that takes a very even-handed approach to the environmental and societal pressures that have contributed to the present state of the harbor and its future.
In Chapter 1, “Shaping the Harbor,” the description of the formation of the hills and valleys of our Three Village area with “unsorted debris” left by the glacier is complemented by poetic and descriptive quotes from Setauket resident Benjamin Franklin Thompson who published the first history of Long Island and William Sidney Mount who wrote in his diary about the search for pigments in the banks and steep hills along the shore with his brother, Alonzo Shepard.
Chapter 2, “Physical Oceanography,” is the most technical chapter in the book, filled with tables and charts that detail the events and changes that have occurred in Stony Brook Harbor, as well as projections on the future of the harbor. Looking at the table on page 19, it is evident that the mean low water at the Stony Brook Yacht Club occurs approximately one hour after low water at the entrance buoy in Smithtown Bay. This is also the case for mean high water, an important consideration for boaters entering the channel to go to either the Stony Brook Yacht Club or the Smithtown Boat Basin.
These details are wonderfully enriched by interesting comments, “Boaters are perhaps frustrated by the seemingly excessive period of low stages of tide, while recreational clammers can relish the extensive period over which they can gather their harvest.” The rest of the chapter details currents, storm surges and more, all of it highlighted with salient comments including that sea levels, having risen one foot since 1886, will rise even faster this century and, “the wetlands will very likely shrink considerably.”
Chapter 3, “The Living Harbor,” begins “The splendor of the harbor is largely identified with its living marine plants and animals.” It goes on to describe the huge variety of plants and animals that inhabit the area. In many cases the same is true for all the pocket bays in our area including Mount Sinai and Setauket.
Chapter 4, “Human Impacts on the Harbor,” factually describes the effect that humans and large numbers of water fowl have had on the harbor, especially in relation to pollution and contamination.
The even-handed approach is evident in Chapter 5, titled “Scars upon the Landscape,” which details that “the physical process of dredging destroys shellfish beds…,” but goes on to say that, “dredged material, if toxicant-free and managed properly, can be a valuable resource when used for such purposes as beach nourishment.”
Chapters 6 and 7, “Governance” and “The Harbor’s Future,” tells the story of how the harbor was used and controlled and then paints a picture of what its future can and should be.
With their life’s works, Larry Swanson and Malcolm Bowman have made significant and substantial contributions to our knowledge and understanding of the natural environment. Their research and instruction at Stony Brook University provides students and residents alike with a more concrete knowledge of the effect that we have on our environment as individuals and as a society. Their contributions to our environmental knowledge are also crucial to Long Island’s future.
The book is available online at www.sunypress.edu and www.amazon.com.
Author Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and pens a biweekly History Close at Hand column in the Village Times Herald.